2011/12 Gateshead

Activities and Events

Japan Day Seminar

2011/12 Gateshead

“Japan and the North East of England – Investing in People and Places”
Japan Day Seminar 2011 – July 29th
Gateshead Civic Centre

Chaired by Professor Marie Conte-Helm OBE, Director of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, the seminar looked at investment links between the North East of England and Japan, and how future regional growth could be promoted through economic partnerships. The backdrop to the day was the reaffirmation ceremony between Gateshead MBC and Komatsu City, with a ceremonial dedication of a new Japanese garden in the town’s Saltwell Park taking place during the morning, led by the Mayor of Gateshead Cllr Joe Mitchinson and Mayor Shinji Wada of Komatsu City, and a signing of a renewed twinning agreement in the council chamber in the afternoon. Both were accompanied by participation of Komatsu City and Gateshead schoolchildren taking part in the annual Youth Exchange.

Consul General Masataka Tarahara then gave the initial opening address to the seminar, hailing both the region’s 600-strong Japanese population and mentioning the Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh’s recent 20 year anniversary also. Professor Conte-Helm was then able to give her standing presentation on the historic context of Japanese links to the region, beginning with the Japanese Imperial Navy’s acquisitions of Tyne-built warships in the nineteenth century through to the wave of investment on Tyneside during the 1980s by the Nissan and Komatsu companies.

Gateshead Council Leader Cllr Mick Henry’s presentation focused on the borough’s past as a manufacturing hub on the Tyne, which to some extent continues to this day with an above regional average manufacturing base in the town. Cllr Henry considered the town in the context of the emerging North Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership and its recent bid for city status as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Year. While Gateshead had pioneered modern light industrial location practices with the Team Valley Trading Estate constructed in the 1930s, it had since diversified its economic offer with a strong retail sector via the Metro Centre (Europe’s largest shopping centre) and emerging growth in both hotels, leisure and digital-creative activities. Cllr Henry saw the creative and digital industries in the aspiring city’s future in a global economy.

Komatsu UK’s Managing Director Peter Howe then gave an overview of the company’s activities in Gateshead, which begun with the construction of the Komatsu site at Birtley in 1985, following the decision of rival plant machine manufacturer Caterpillar to withdraw from the town. As well as hailing the steady production numbers at the Gateshead plant, dented only by the recent recession, Mr Howe paid tribute to the region’s pro-investment policies and skilled workforce and strong transport links to the company’s key markets in Europe. He added that the company was proud to be the catalyst for the links between Gateshead and Komatsu City.

Jun Arima, Director General of the Japan of External Trade Organisation (JETRO) in London then spoke on business opportunities for the UK in Japan. Mr Arima noted that the UK is the biggest global destination for Japanese investment, ranked first (¥417bn) above the US (¥278bn) and the second largest investor in Japan after the US, as well as the biggest base for Japanese manufacturing in Europe (235 sites to Germany’s 169). He also paid tribute to the importance of the UK-Japan trade and investment partnership, based as it was around common values of democracy, rule of law and the free market, amid wider global uncertainty. He called for strategic collaboration between both countries, in particular an alliance of British research capacity and Japanese technology, especially in light of the uphill tasks facing Japan around reconstruction following the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami and the opportunities this afforded UK businesses. Here JETRO and other Japanese organisations in the UK could play a significant role, he suggested. He also mentioned that currently there are no UK-based Regional Industry Tie-ups under JETRO’s auspices and hoped this could change in the future.

Dr Sierk Horn of Leeds University was then called on to present his findings around the spatial distribution of Japanese investment in the UK. Dr Horn considered that the emerging relationship between industrial sectors in both countries was now based around a more complex set of realities which afforded further examination of factors such as the fluidity of markets and new competitors, as well as changing investment priorities (e.g. from manufacturing to R&D). In particular, following the wave of investment in the 1980s, the UK was now witnessing the departure of a number of Japanese firms. As such, those offering industrial support policies needed to rethink their strategies, he concluded.

The final presentation was delivered by Cllr Dave Wilcox OBE, Chair of the European and International Programme Board of the Local Government Association, as well as a leading figure in the partnership between Derbyshire and Toyota City. Cllr Wilcox outlined the historical context of the Toyota Motor Company’s investment in Derbyshire and what support the local authority had been able to offer to not only ensure the plant’s retention by the company amid economic uncertainty, but also take a hands-on approach towards economic development to ensure the company’s location was optimised. To ensure the economic momentum of Toyota’s investment in the area was maintained required careful political leadership and negotiation, he argued. This collaboration had paid off in terms of both economic vitality in the county, as well as key sustainability policies locally.

A closing address by the new Director of the Japan Local Government Centre in London, Yutaka Tanaka, mentioned both his hopes in the new post and also his appreciation of Gateshead’s vibrancy and hospitality. The question and answer session which followed, chaired by Professor Conte-Helm, heard how the region’s investment profile in Japan was likely to grow further in the coming years but that regional economic policies needed to be in place to ensure this, while others reflected on the shared manufacturing culture between Japan and the North East which had seen both positive investment on account of local labour force strengths but that inconsistent regulation at national and EU level did not see this partnership become as fruitful as it might be. Participants then attended the traditional Japan Day reception in the Civic Centre, cementing the day’s reflection on the longstanding partnerships between the North East and Japan.