The Japanese Chamber of Commerce president explains its role in Thailand

Some of you might remember how in the international news coverage of the recent Japanese tsunami, one commentator described the Japanese people as "dignified" in the wake of such calamity.

The television screen showed long queues of tsunami victims waiting patiently at relief centres and they were indeed dignified.

"We work as a team to help each other and we have determination. If you have determination then you have a future," said Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC) president Kyoichi Tanada in his elaboration of the demeanor of the Japanese people.

"It is the personality of the Japanese people. Discipline. We don't think about today or tomorrow but instead we choose to have a vision for the future. It all boils down to education and our culture, to not think about one's self before others. If you are just one by yourself, one cannot fight. But as a team you can," said Tanada.

For this exclusive interview with Life, Tanada set aside his day job as head of Toyota Motor Thailand, the largest automobile brand in Thailand, and spoke on behalf of the JCC, which was established 57 years ago with only 30 members.

Today, the membership of this elite gathering of movers and shakers stands at 1,337 members and hails from every possible industry, from the automotive to electrical appliances, trading and food sectors.

"The JCC's role is to promote the activities of Japanese companies in Thailand because more than 40% of total global investment in Thailand is made by Japan. When Japanese companies need to talk to the Thai government, it is my responsibility to facilitate such negotiations," said Tanada. Referring to the recent stringent quality checks on Japanese exports post-tsunami, he added: "The JCC needs to explain that there is no problem [regarding radiation contamination]."

Another of the JCC's responsibility is to find investment companies for Japanese small and medium enterprises (SMEs) since the rise of the Japanese yen.

"The JCC serves as a window for SMEs who have questions, which is why we are in a position to explain the Thai situation.

"In addition, the JCC facilitates on visa and tax issues while acting as a liaison with the Board of Investment."

The Japanese SMEs to which Tanada was referring to are what one would categorise as fourth- or fifth-tier companies that want to expand and develop their respective markets - jig or dye makers in the automotive industry would generally fall into that category.

On a separate note, for the past 10 years the JCC has contributed 25% of its annual membership dues - about 10 million baht - to community activities involving education in rural areas of Thailand.

The post-tsunami scenario saw manufacturing lapses for a few carmakers, which were experienced in the months of April to May. Tanada explained that regional markets - India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand - depended on 5-10% of Japanese components:

"Not only Toyota but almost every brand was affected. Toyota was down 30% of its full production capacity, which was about the same for Honda. Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Nissan were not affected," he said.

However analysts noted that some brands were able to divert their respective vehicle exports to make up for their production losses.

"Japanese component makers tried their best and delivered by returning to normalcy [in Thailand] within two months by the month of June," Tanada said. "Regarding the second half of this year, it all depends on the demand and preparations."

Shifting gears back to the tsunami situation, he said the people of Thailand probably ranked among the top donors, excluding government and corporate financial donations.

Tanada said donations from Thai people amounted to about 35 million baht, in addition to the 100 million baht collected by the Japanese embassy.

He said Thais "always gave encouragement to the tsunami victims and showed how sad they were" when talking to Japanese expats.

"On behalf of the JCC we express our gratitude to the Thai people for their kindness," Tanada said.

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