Japan Hopes to Get a Slice of Mercosur Opportunity Cake as LATAM Exports to USA Decline

In early May 2017, representatives from Japan and Mercosur, a sub-regional alliance consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, met to discuss trade and investment between the nations with the aim to promote free trade and fluid movement of goods. Over the past years, business between Mercosur and Japan has been badly affected mainly by outdated trade policies that have not been revised in a long time. To improve economic relations between Japan and member countries of Mercosur, trade policies need to be renewed and new sectors of investment should be explored.

In 2016, Japan exports to Mercosur nations reached US$3.5 billion and imports from Mercosur totaled US$7.6 billion. Both exports and imports drastically reduced since 2012, taking a hit of 52% and 42.8%, respectively.

Japan and Argentina

After a decade of slow business dealings, trade relations between Japan and Argentina are showing signs of improvement. The number of Japanese companies operating in Argentina reduced from 120 in the 1990s to 54 by the end of 2007. However, the interest of Japanese businesses in the Argentinian market has started to return since the last quarter of 2015, with 78 companies currently in operation in Argentina, and Japan aims to have a minimum of 200 Japanese companies operating in the coming years. According to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), in 2016, Japanese exports to Argentina stood at US$630 million, primary exports being machinery and electronics. Imports to Japan were worth US$762 million in the same year.

In order to boost Argentina’s economy, president Mauricio Macri has focused on reviving infrastructure projects in the country. Taking an advantage of this opportunity, Japanese trading companies are keeping a close watch on upcoming rail contracts. Marubeni Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, and Mitsui & Co., three of the largest trading companies in Japan, are interested in sales of passenger rail cars in Argentina and planning on submitting bids as part of the new proposed projects. Japanese companies plan to invest between US$6 billion and US$9 billion in Argentina during 2017-2020. The investments are likely to be made across various sectors including mining, energy, and agriculture, among others. With more sectors now open to investment, Japan hopes to boost trade in the broader Latin American market.

Japan and Brazil

Brazil is a large investment market for Japan. With close to 700 Japanese companies currently operating in Brazil, the commercial and industrial opportunities the country offers are unquestionable. In 2016, Japan imported goods worth US$6.7 billion from Brazil, a drop by 10.6% over the previous year when the imports stood at US$7.5 billion. Japan and Brazil are now partnering to strengthen trade and investment between the two countries to spur increase in trade.

Brazil offers Japan a considerable investment opportunity in infrastructure projects. After the Cooperation Agreement for the Promotion of Infrastructure Investments was signed in October 2016, investment in areas such as transportation, logistics, information technology, and energy is expected to increase. At the same time, Japan is a large market for Brazilian agricultural products such as soy, corn, and cotton, but Brazil is also interested to enter the fruit and beef market in Japan. While discussions and negotiations regarding the entry of Brazilian products in the Japanese market are still under way, issues related to hygiene and sanitary standards still need to be addressed.

Japan and Paraguay

Paraguay is one of the least explored countries in terms of trade by Japanese firms. Between 2011 and 2014, only some 10 Japanese companies established operations in Paraguay. Japanese exports to Paraguay stood at US$77.5 million in 2016 while imports from Paraguay were reported at US$41.6 million during the same year. Japanese companies plan to invest in Paraguay to improve business and generate revenue in sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture, and energy, which are seen as areas of opportunities in the future.

Japan and Uruguay

In January 2015, the countries signed a Japan-Uruguay Investment Agreement – the first investment agreement between Japan and any member of Mercosur. Uruguay has become an attractive destination for Japanese investors mainly due to the country’s economic and political stability, low level of corruption, and easy inflow of FDI in the country. Additionally, Japanese companies are provided with the same opportunities and conditions as domestic firms. Uruguay offers the benefit of being able to serve as a distribution hub and boasts of good logistical services to other Mercosur countries – Japanese companies are likely take this as an opportunity to develop an overseas base to strengthen business ties within the region. Uruguay largely depends on natural resources such as wind, water, solar, and biomass to produce energy, making the renewable energy sector in the country another attractive area for investment by Japanese companies in the coming years.

EOS Perspective

The arrival of Trump’s administration leading to USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership and focus on encouraging domestic industrialization by limiting imports from countries across Latin America, have resulted in several LATAM countries’ attempts to improve and tighten friendly trade relations within their own region as well as with new partners globally, including Asia – we wrote about it in our article Trump In Action: Triumph Or Tremor For Latin America? in February 2017. Japan appears to be willing to use this situation to its advantage by renewing trade and investment policies with Mercosur nations as well.

In the past five years, exports and imports value have declined continuously between Japan and Mercosur nations, and to reverse this declining trend and to revive trade, Japan started to build new trading relationships with Mercosur countries. If successful, this initiative is likely to serve two purposes – firstly, Mercosur countries can reduce dependence on the USA and move towards new markets to look for new opportunities, and secondly, through increased investment in Mercosur, Japan can become a prominent player in the region to reap benefits from engaging in business with several emerging countries.

Tags: asia, commodities, emerging markets, invest, investors, japan, latam, mercosur
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