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Mutually Promoting
Foreign Business

The many forms of ACCJ–European cooperation

By Brandi Goode

From trade policy to golf, the members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and those of European organizations here have plenty of shared interests.

The institutional history of cooperation between the ACCJ and the European Business Council (EBC) goes back over a decade. “Being able to collaborate and cooperate with the EBC greatly enhances our advocacy work,” said ACCJ President Jay Ponazecki, “as one of our Core Advocacy Principles is a commitment to adopting global best practices.”

While advocacy is only one pillar of the ACCJ, it is the sole focus of the EBC.

During a recent ACCJ Leadership Forum, EBC Chairman Danny Risberg—who also leads Philips Electronics’ Japan operation—discussed some of the ways the organizations are collaborating. Risberg has been a member of the ACCJ for many years, and has served on several committees.

“It’s easy for me to see the synergies and where we can help each other,” he said.

Risberg began his chairmanship of the EBC in 2014, around roughly the same time as Ponazecki began her tenure.

“I enjoy the relationship between the EBC and the ACCJ, and with both Jay and I coming in new to our positions, maybe that’s an opportunity. We are both reaching out, which makes things easier,” Risberg said. “We share a lot of the same aspirations for our organizations, especially related to trade success in Japan.”

Ponazecki concurs. “It is truly a symbiotic relationship, and we continue to look for new ways to deepen and leverage it to the benefit of our respective members,” she said.

As chairman of the EBC Medical Equipment Committee, Risberg has been involved in coordinating the ACCJ–EBC joint speaker series. The third event in the series this year took place on July 15, “Telemedicine as a Means of Delivering Sustainable Quality Home Healthcare in Japan”.

Another landmark in cooperation across borders in the healthcare sector is the ACCJ-EBC Health Policy White Paper 2013. While several other ACCJ–EBC white papers have been drafted in the past—such as the joint financial services viewpoint released earlier this year, Develop a Robust Credit Reporting System for Japan, the healthcare report is particularly significant, said Bjorn Kongstad, EBC policy director.

Sharing best practices
According to Ryan Armstrong, co-chair of the ACCJ Insurance Committee, “Many of our committee initiatives center on global best practice, so collaboration with the EBC makes sense. It is an effective way for our members to learn about issues affecting our industry in Japan and abroad.”

Armstrong said the relationship between the insurance committees of both organizations has evolved and grown over the years, and at the committee level, this is one of the strongest examples of ACCJ–EBC cooperation.

There is an annual joint insurance committee shinnenkai, and the groups have worked together on mutual statements to the government, as well as brochures on the contribution of the insurance industry as a whole to the Japanese economy.

The ACCJ and EBC insurance committees organize quarterly meetings with the Foreign Non-Life Insurance Association of Japan, hold joint speaker events, and regularly exchange ideas with domestic industry associations.

“The ACCJ and EBC share an important partnership where collaboration is key,” Armstrong said. “We do a great job of working together, but we’re always looking to do more.”

Strength in numbers
Alison Murray, executive director of the EBC, recalls several key moments when EBC–ACCJ collaboration proved very fruitful.

A classic example, she explained, is Article 821 of the new Corporation Law, passed in 2005. This article was only posted online just a few weeks before it went to the House of Councillors for debate. The wording therein had the potential to negatively impact—in a significant way—foreign companies operating here as a branch of an overseas parent, particularly financial firms.

“We, the ACCJ, and the ANZCCJ [Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan] went to the Cabinet and said we were drawing a line in the sand. We sent a fax to every single parliamentarian, and I believe the ACCJ did as well,” she said.

While the Corporation Law still hasn’t been amended, concessions were made in light of the upheaval among members of the foreign business community. Before the law was passed in the upper house, a supplemental resolution was added, addressing how and when Article 821 can be applied.

“If you have an emergency, the best way forward is to do something jointly,” Murray added.

Even outside emergency situations, collaboration lends credence to policy recommendations.

“When we can say that a recommendation is something that core industry players in both the US and Europe—two major, mature markets and key trading partners of Japan—see as potentially improving the Japanese business environment, the recommendation is all the more compelling,” Ponazecki said.

Social, professional ties
In addition to collaboration with the EBC on advocacy issues, the ACCJ regularly teams up with European chambers of commerce on social events. Perhaps the largest and most eagerly awaited of these is the North America–Europe Golf Challenge in Japan, the Mercedes-Benz Japan Cup.

This annual charity outing provides for friendly competition and a day of mixing among members of the business community. Last year’s event raised funds for the YMCA Challenged Children Project, and was attended by 144 people—55 from the ACCJ.

This year’s event is set for October 10 at the Atsugi Kokusai Country Club in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The ACCJ also belongs to Foreign Chambers in Japan (FCIJ), which conducts a biannual business confidence survey. The most recent poll includes responses from 17 foreign chambers of commerce and business groups.

For the EBC and many of the European chambers, it makes sense to join forces with the ACCJ for networking functions and speaker engagements, as the ACCJ has the potential to draw a crowd. One such event, the “ACCJ, EBC and SCCIJ [Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan] Joint Luncheon: Japan’s Economy and Monetary Policy,” was held on July 8.

Finally, there is certainly room for increased networking at social engagements, and the ACCJ plans to hold more such events in the future.

“Nomunication” mixers are held about three times a year, and have been in place since the early 1990s. In 2008, all three Nomunications were held with European partners.

More recently, there was a very successful Nomunication with the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan in November 2013.

ACCJ Executive Director Samuel Kidder is also pleased with the organizations’ collaboration to date.

“We’re very happy to see more and more cooperation with our friends in the EBC and the European member chambers. And I would like our European friends to know that they are welcome any time to stop by the ACCJ office to have a look at the North America–Europe Golf Challenge trophy.” •