Activities of the Shikoku Overseas Expansion Support Forum
International Affairs Division
Shikoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry
For more companies to succeed in developing overseas operations, those with no offshore experience included, support institutions not only need to work with each other to provide support, but also to help develop and strengthen partnerships among companies with the aim of spreading success across as many businesses as possible.
Support institutions have been working together through frameworks such as the New Export Nation Consortium Shikoku Block Conference (known until March 2016 as the Shikoku SME Overseas Expansion Assistance Conference, and comprising municipal and other administrative authorities, support institutions, economic associations, and financial institutions, etc.) to support the overseas expansion of Shikoku's small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and other local businesses.
At the same time, for SMEs and other smaller businesses with more limited management resources than large companies to respond to the changing overseas business environment, in addition to the conventional vertical relationships between support institutions and those companies receiving their support, a mechanism was also needed to help develop and strengthen horizontal partnerships among companies so that they can share information with each other. Set up in July 2014 for that purpose, the Shikoku SME Overseas Expansion Support Forum engages in its work program with support from the Institute for International Studies and Training.
The second year of the Support Forum
The Shikoku SME Overseas Expansion Support Forum comprises a plenary session and sub-groups for each of the countries which Shikoku's SMEs are targeting for operations abroad. The main aim of the plenary session is to create interest in overseas expansion particularly among those companies who have not yet given much thought to this. The sub-groups take a narrower focus to enable deeper discussion. In 2015, the second year of the Support Forum's activities, the plenary session was addressed by the head of an SME which is actively developing offshore markets for umeshu, or plum liquor, which is part of Japan's traditional culture, as well as presentations from private-sector experts providing support for offshore expansion. The venue then changed for a get-together which gave participating companies the opportunity to exchange information with each other.
Four country-specific sub-group meetings were held this time, with Myanmar and Vietnam joined by Indonesia as a country in which Shikoku firms indicated strong interest in their questionnaire responses.
The Vietnam sub-group meeting focused this time on manufacturing. A ship switchboard manufacturer from Aichi Prefecture's Toyo region (which has one of the largest manufacturing clusters in Shikoku) spoke about its 10-year-old Vietnam operation. Official support provided by municipal authorities in Ehime Prefecture and elsewhere was outlined, and participating companies gave mini presentations on private-sector support.
Two meetings were held on newly-added Indonesia, looking at the themes of food and disaster prevention. Food was selected because Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, and while it is not an Islamic nation bound by sharia law and there is no legal obligation to acquire Halal certification for food, the aim was to inform manufacturers about the Halal certification system in Islamic countries. Accordingly, the first meeting was held in Tokushima Prefecture, which is actively supporting exports particularly of local products with Halal certification. Participants heard from a famous local Sanuki udon restaurant from neighboring Kagawa Prefecture about its first Indonesian premises, set up just recently, while a private-sector expert involved in Halal food imports and exports and sales support gave a presentation on food handling in Indonesia. This was followed by a panel discussion in which an official from JETRO's Asia and Oceania Division also participated.
The second Indonesia meeting addressed disaster prevention. The earthquake off Sumatra is the first disaster that springs to mind in relation to Indonesia, which, like Japan, experiences frequent earthquakes and has a number of volcanoes. The two countries consequently share much in common in terms of these phenomena and the related disaster management. This meeting was held in Kochi Prefecture, where disaster prevention awareness is growing amidst an integrated local disaster prevention and mitigation campaign in preparation for a possible Nankai Trough megathrust earthquake, with companies also launching disaster prevention product development initiatives that exploit their particular strengths. At the meeting, an official from JICA's Global Environment Department engaged in joint research on comprehensive disaster prevention in Indonesia spoke about disaster risk and disaster prevention cooperation in Indonesia, while a Japanese affiliate operating in Indonesia presented on the development of ICT-based disaster prevention systems there. Local companies actively seeking to establish operations abroad then joined in a panel discussion.
Finally, the Myanmar meeting took the theme of manufacturing, featuring a presentation on setting up operations in Myanmar by a firm which noticed the country's potential early on and became a frontrunner in establishing a local presence. An official from JETRO's Asia and Oceania Division also outlined the current situation in Myanmar, followed by mini-presentations by trading companies and banks, etc., that offer private-sector support.
Results from a questionnaire about the Support Forum program that was distributed to sub-group meeting participants revealed that companies are most interested in hearing directly from companies already operating offshore about their experience and exchanging views with these companies, followed by presentations from and exchanges of views with experts operating in the field. In other words, their main interest is in voices of experience that will help them in establishing their own local operations.
Since the Shikoku SME Overseas Expansion Support Forum was set up in 2014, there have been two plenary sessions, four Myanmar meetings, three Vietnam meetings and two Indonesia meetings. Over the two years, coordinating also with initiatives by local authorities in the prefectures hosting the Forum, the program has been revised each time with the aim of interesting local companies in overseas expansion, featuring presentations, panel discussions, get-togethers and other events.
Panel discussions have drawn keen questions from the audience, and get-togethers have seen participants engaging actively in exchanges of views with speakers, with the number of repeat participants from within and beyond Shikoku gradually increasing. We will continue to work to encourage more local companies to look overseas and look forward more to success stories emerging from this endeavor.
(original article : Japanese)