The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


JULY 2014
D.C. Doorknock Meets
Japan Caucus

Key members of the ACCJ have once again been knocking on the doors of some of the most powerful and influential policy-makers in the United States, with the agenda headlined this year by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations, the energy sector, national security issues, and ways to enhance the already close relationship between Japan and the United States.

The annual Washington, D.C. Doorknock took place over three days from April 30, with the eight-strong delegation led by Jay Ponazecki, ACCJ president, and Christopher LaFleur, ACCJ chairman.

This year’s visit took on added significance as the delegation was able to meet with members of the bipartisan US Congressional Caucus on Japan, which was established on March 24 and is jointly chaired by Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, and Devin Nunes, a Republican from California.

“We were thrilled to see the establishment of this new Congressional body dedicated to supporting greater understanding of and engagement with a country that is the world’s third-largest economy and one of the United States’ staunchest allies and closest friends in this region,” Ponazecki told the ACCJ Journal.

“Having this body in the US Congress to facilitate a greater understanding of the issues in the bilateral relationship can only serve to strengthen the US–Japan relationship in all its facets—from security and cooperation to person-to-person relationships to trade and commerce,” she added.

The chamber’s delegation had meetings with five senators and 10 representatives, as well as senior members of the staff of several other legislators.

Further meetings were arranged with officials in the administration of President Barack Obama, including the office of the United States Trade Representative as well as the departments of commerce, energy, state, and the treasury.

Additional talks took place with Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, at the Japanese Embassy, and with academics and experts at Washington think tanks.

Among the issues that came up were the state of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic growth strategies and economic policies, business opportunities that are being created in Japan as a result of Abenomics, and, looking further into the future, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“The big difference with this Doorknock [compared to previous ones] was that we were able to meet members of the Japan Caucus, as it is important for us to know their motivation for joining the group,” said Yoshitaka Sugihara, a governor of the chamber and manager of the Government and Legal Affairs division of Intel KK’s Tokyo office.

One of the key reasons for the interest is that Japanese firms are investing in the Caucus members’ constituencies, and those representatives are keen to know more about the likely impact over both the short and long term.

Japanese car companies alone employ some 300,000 people across the United States.

“Naturally, there was a lot of interest in the TPP negotiations as well as the US–Japan defense alliance and economic opportunities, but this is just the beginning. Now we can move on to find out how we can work together to achieve the things we want,” Sugihara said.

Discussions on the TPP are making progress, Sugihara pointed out. The main sticking point involves pork imports, but there is a sense on both sides that the process is advancing.

Sugihara, who was taking part in his third Doorknock in the US capital, said he noticed a change in attitudes towards Japan this year.

He said, “When Abe came in [to power], I think a lot of people in Congress and in the Obama administration realized that they needed to recover ties with Tokyo and that they needed to know more about Abe’s ‘three arrows.’ They realized the importance of security issues in this part of the world.”

“Our members bring with them intimate, on-the-ground knowledge of both the positives and the negatives of the marketplace in Japan, and often of the broader region,” said Ponazecki.

“Many ACCJ members are business professionals who have been working in this market for decades and know not only what issues are currently facing their industries in Japan, but how those issues have evolved over time.

“And with 60 active committees, the chamber has members that work in a wide swath of industry sectors that makes it a key resource for US Government officials wishing to obtain insights from true experts in any of various industries operating in Japan,” she added.

“It is important to keep the momentum created by President Obama’s recent visit to Japan, and for the two nations that share many important values in common—including democracy and strong commitments to the rule of law and international human rights—to work together in leading the establishment of a trade architecture in the economically vibrant Asia-Pacific region through, initially, a high-standard, 21st-century TPP, and with the goal of establishing a free trade agreement of the Asia-Pacific in the future,” Ponazecki said.

“We think an ambitious TPP will serve as a model for how trade should be carried out not only in the region, but globally as well.”

The reactions from the US side were favorable, she said, with a “universal recognition” of the importance of a strong alliance between Japan and the United States and an appreciation of the tremendous value in having the two nations take the lead in establishing a regional trade structure in such an important part of the world, which will lead to new opportunities for US industry and create more jobs in the United States.

Chris LaFleur, a former diplomat who has spent 23 years in Japan and served as the US ambassador to Malaysia before setting up his own consulting firm in Tokyo, said he believes the annual Doorknock is only growing in importance.

“One of the most important functions of the chamber is advocacy on behalf of our members, and I have seen chambers across Asia and the rest of the world, and I would say that the chamber here in Japan is one of the most active and effective in that area, if not the most effective,” LaFleur said.

“This annual pilgrimage makes sure that our message is in front of the people with influence and interest in this very important area,” he added. •