This paper is based on the topic of international trade. It is divided into three parts. Part one explores the topic by looking at some aspects such as Japan’s international trade and its contribution to Japan’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the country’s main imports and exports, and other impacts of international trade on Japan’s economic growth and the well-being of its people. Part two looks at Japan’s general trade policies and policies which regulate its imports and exports. Part three looks at the country’s exchange rates and the future of its currency. The paper uses various resources such as books, websites, and other scholarly resources.
Being a member of the G-8, Japan is a major economy in the world. In fact, it is the 3rd largest economy and the 8th most populated country in the world with a population of 128 million people. According to Columbia University, however, Japan’s land which is viable for agriculture is not enough to produce enough food for the big population (“Columbia University, East Asian Curriculum Project: Economy and Trade Fact Sheet: Basic Points about Japan’s Economy and Trading Patterns” par 6).
After the end of World War II, Japan was left behind by the western countries as far as economic growth was concerned. As a result, its economic strategy was coined around the determination to catch up with the western countries and the desire to look for cheap raw materials for its manufacturing sector (Rivoli 18).
The country also enacted protectionist policies that restricted competition from western industrial nations and as a result, its economy took off from the disruption caused by the World Wars. The economic growth of Japan has been attributed to advancement in technology, supportive government trade policies, skilled workforce, increased capital, and a favorable international trade environment. In fact, Japan has remained the 2nd largest economy after the United States (US) from 1960 to 2010, when it was overtaken by China.
Japan’s strong economic background can be attributed to the 1960 decade when the value of exports increased by close to 7% in many non-communist countries due to an increase in the US dollar value by 75%. The increase in the value of exports made Japan’s products competitive in western markets. The fixed exchange rate for the Japanese Yen also contributed immensely to the growth of Japan’s economy and by the end of the decade, the country had accumulated surpluses enough to cover all the deficits of the previous years.
However, the rapid economic progress was short-lived, especially at the wake of the 1970 decade which was welcomed by the end of the fixed exchange rate for the Japanese Yen (Holroyd 67). The Japanese Yen however remained of high value under the newly introduced floating exchange rates. The 1973 global oil crisis spelled doom for Japan’s rapidly growing economy, especially due to Japan’s dependence on imported raw materials. The country spent immensely on importing energy and raw materials for its manufacturing sector and as a result, its huge surpluses of the previous decade were quickly lost and a deficit set in, especially during the second global oil crisis of 1979. Consequently, the country’s focus shifted to increasing its exports to cover the huge amounts spent on importing energy and raw materials.
The efforts to accelerate exports appeared to bear fruits when the country’s annual average rates for exports hit the 21% mark at the start of the 1980 decade. There were also economic fortunes for the country following the sharp decrease of the price of raw materials at the global market. The decrease in the price of raw materials increased surpluses in many countries, and as a result, Japan was able to increase its exports due to the increased purchasing power of its trade partners, especially the US and the European Union (EU). The country’s currency also increased in value compared to other currencies but funny enough; the increase did not significantly affect the volume of surpluses in Japan’s trade partners.
These new developments of the 1980 decade made many countries change their perception of Japan. Its ability to export more than any other country raised its rating in international trade and was ranked as an industrial nation like the US and the EU. Its new status mounted pressure on it to ease restrictions on its market so that many countries could access it. The pressure was also mounted on the country to be actively involved in the supply of foreign aid. The events of the 1980 decade have been described as a dramatic twist for the country, whose aim was to catch up with western industrial nations but ended up being a prominent player in international trade.
However, the pressure for Japan to open its market for other countries appeared not to succeed much, especially due to its huge surpluses. The perceived defiance of Japan to open its market precipitated tension between it and its major trade partners. In order to maintain a good relationship with its trade partners, Japan opened its market and by 1987, there was a remarkable increase in imports and as a result, the tension was eased albeit in a small measure.
In the wake of the1990 decade, Japan continued with its economic productivity which was occasioned by good leadership at the international level and increased foreign investments. As a result, the pressure continued on the country to completely liberalize its import policies so as to allow its trade partners to access its market. There was also continued pressure from the international community for Japan to increase its aid to foreign countries. As a result, Japan became a member of global international institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, the 1990 decade did not end well for Japan especially due to the sharp decline of real estate and stock prices in its trade partner countries. Due to its high dependence on exporting manufactured goods and lack of raw materials at home, the country witnessed a decline in productivity in the 1990 decade due to the economic misfortunes of the US and the EU. In an effort to counter the effects of the 1990 decade, Japan undertook various economic reforms and as a result, its economy witnessed exponential growth from 2000 to 2007 (Graph at the appendix, fig.1).
Unfortunately, the growth was not sustained due to the 2008 global recession, but Japan was quick to respond by enacting various policies which culminated in a 4.7% GDP in 2010. Misfortune struck again in 2011 following the earthquake in Japan which disrupted the supply of key production inputs such as water and electricity. The earthquake also disrupted the supply chains thus affecting Japan’s international trade. But the country quickly responded with a raft of measures that brought back the economy on its course in 2013.
Japan’s economic growth has improved the standards of living of the Japanese people (“Columbia University, East Asian Curriculum Project: Economy and Trade Fact Sheet: Basic Points about Japan’s Economy and Trading Patterns” par 4). In an effort to sustain its economic progress, the country has ventured into the service industry so as to effectively compete with its major trade partners, especially the US. The decision to venture into the service industry has also been informed by the need to reduce the cost of imported services from other countries. The country’s highly educated population and evenly distributed income have made it diversify its economy to avoid stagnation like the one witnessed in the 1970 decade (“The Federation of International Trade Associations: Japan” par 2). The table below shows Japan’s international trade statistics from 2009 to 2013
|International Trade Indicator||2009||2010||2011||2012||2013|
|Total imports(goods) in million USD||551,981||694, 059||855,380||885,843||833,166|
|Total exports(goods) in million USD||580, 719||769,839||823,184||798,568||715,097|
|Total imports (services) in million USD||146,965||155,613||165,727||174,924||160,941|
|Total exports(services) in million USD||125, 918||138,703||142,551||142,489||143,890|
Source: The Federation of International Trade Associations.
According to the table, it is clear that Japan had a surplus in its international trade in 2009 and 2010. However, from 2011 to 2013, there is an indication of a trade deficit because the imports are more than the exports. Something else to note is that even though the country ventured into the export of services, it did not record any surplus for the period 2009 to 2013. The reason is that it imported more services than it exported. However, the country has been consistent in its export of services because it recorded an exponential growth of its export of services, except in 2012 when the value of the services exported declined by a small margin.
Japan’s Dominant Imports and Exports
Traditionally, Japan is renowned for its vibrant manufacturing sector, which has been a major force behind its economic growth for many years. It has retained its tradition and today, it leads in the manufacture of various goods such as machine tools, electrical appliances, chemicals, ships, electronics, optical equipment, steal, and automobiles (“Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Japan Country Brief Overview” par 8). However, there has been increased competition from China and South Korea, which are manufacturing some of the goods mentioned above.
The competition has been occasioned by an increase in manufacturing costs in Japan due to the increased cost of labor, especially due to its highly educated workforce. In an effort to counter the increased cost of labor, Japan has transferred some of its manufacturing activities to low-cost countries in Asia and Africa. It has also concentrated its efforts on the service industry, especially banking which accounts for 75% of Japan’s GDP. The growth of the banking industry in Japan has made the Tokyo stock exchange a global center of financial exchange, further increasing Japan’s competitiveness across the globe (Misawa 338).
As mentioned earlier, international trade, which comprises imports and exports is a major component of Japan’s economy. According to Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade, Japan’s exports were equivalent to16% of its GDP in 2013. Japan’s dominant exports include manufactured goods, machinery, and vehicles (“Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Japan Country Brief Overview” par 14).
Its major destinations for its exports include the US-18.8%, China- 18.1%, and Korea-7.7%. Its major imports include foodstuff, machinery, and fuel (“Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Japan Country Brief Overview” par 14). The suppliers of these imports include China- 21.7%, US-8.6%, and Australia-6.1% (“Economy Watch: Japan Export, Import & Trade” par 4). This information is as presented in the table below
|Exports as at 2013|
|Country||US||China||Republic of Korea|
|Imports as at 2013|
Source: Economy Watch: Japan Export, Import & Trade.
As per this table, there is an indication that Japan’s trade interest is slowly shifting from the US to China. The reason is that Japan has recently increased its foreign investments in China than in the US.
Current Challenges to Japan’s International Trade
Even though Japan has become a major economy in the world since the 1990s; it is currently faced with some challenges in its international trade. One of the challenges is a declining workforce. According to statistics from Quandl, Japan has had a well-educated workforce over the last decade (“Quandl: Japan Education Data” par 2). As a result, it has become difficult to get non-skilled labor from Japan, a situation that makes its manufacturing sector rely heavily on imported labor. This challenge appears to slow down its economic glory of the past (Graph at the appendix, fig. 2).
The other challenge which is related to the first one is an increasingly aging population. It means that the number of old people is almost equal to or bigger than the number of young people. The increase of the aging population has been occasioned by improved healthcare and good standards of living. The other challenge to Japan’s international trade is the loss of its manufacturing culture, which is considered as the major force which brought it to the limelight at the international platform.
The decline has made some Chinese and South Korean companies venture into the car industry and of late, they have been manufacturing cars that may compete with those of Japan at the international market. The loss of its manufacturing culture is attributed to the shift to the service industry. Even though the service industry is making the country reduce its volume of imported services, it has made other countries venture into the manufacturing industry, which has been dominated by Japan for many years.
There is also the challenge of increasing the cost of crude oil, which is a major threat to Japan’s manufacturing sector because the country relies heavily on imported oil. The other threat is the unpredictability of China’s economy, which has overtaken that of Japan since 2010. It is becoming difficult for Japan to predict which industry China may venture in and as a result, Japan has been cautious by avoiding long-term investments at the international level.
There is also the challenge of increased taxes across the globe, which means reduced profits on all forms of exports. Also considered as a challenge to Japan’s international trade are unstable economies in its major trade partners namely the US and the EU. Since Japan’s economy is largely a manufacturing economy, it is prone to shocks in foreign markets and therefore, it is not easy to cushion the country from the behavior of external markets.
However, the country is putting up some measures to deal with the challenges. One of them is the encouragement of Japanese firms by the Japanese government to seek a stable supply of energy and other supplies so as to make the manufacturing sector stable (“Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Japan Country Brief Overview” par 21). The government is also encouraging firms to consider doing business with countries that do not have high costs of doing business.
Other Impacts of International Trade on Economic Growth and Well-Being
As mentioned earlier in this discussion, Japan relies heavily on international trade to develop its economy and improve the well-being of its people. One of the major impacts of international trade on Japan’s economy is the untamed growth witnessed in the 1960s and 1980s. The other impact is the opening up of Japan’s market to goods manufactured in other countries. Traditionally, Japan was only in need of foodstuff from outside due to its weak agricultural sector. However, the huge economic benefits that Japan reaped from international trade before 2000 made it open its market to other non-food items, which lowered the gains from its manufacturing sector.
The improved economy has made the living standards of the Japanese people to be at par with those of western industrial nations such as the US and the EU. Japan has an elaborate transport infrastructure which has made it one of the most preferred nations for investment by non-Japanese firms. The advancement in information and communication technology in Japan has made it one of the few countries which have a low cost of doing business due to over-reliance on technology instead of human labor.
The country has a vibrant health infrastructure that has increased life expectancy because people are able to afford a good diet and health education. There are also reduced maternal deaths in the country. The country also has an effective family planning system, which unfortunately has reduced the number of young people who play a crucial role in economic growth. The country’s government has also invested heavily in education and as a result, the levels of literacy have increased significantly since the economic boom of the 1960s. Generally speaking, international trade has had many impacts on Japan’s economic and social well-being. Even though it has had some negative effects, international trade has done more good than harm to Japan.
International Trade Agreements
Since the emergence of Japan as a major player in the global economy, Japan has entered into trade agreements with key trade partners such as the EU, Australia, and the US (Rivoli 37). International trade agreements are discussions that are aimed at guiding the trade between two countries. The importance of trade agreements is that they enable countries to create a level playing field so that they can benefit from the trade. Failure to have trade agreements leads to situations where one country is able to export goods and services to other countries, but unwilling to allow other countries to sell their goods in its market.
When countries enter into trade agreements, they aim at creating a win-win situation in which they depend on each other to boost their economies through fair trade. In most cases, international trade agreements aim at introducing free trade which is characterized by the elimination of all barriers to trade, reduction of customs duty on goods, and exchange programs on various sectors of the economy such as education, health, military, and industrial production.
Japan’s Trade with the EU
As mentioned earlier, one of Japan’s major trading partners in the EU. It is considered as the 2nd largest trading partner of the EU, and as such, it is a major destination of EU’s exports such as machinery, agricultural products, chemical products, transport equipment, and machinery. The EU also forms a major market for Japan’s goods such as vehicles, electronic appliances, transport equipment, and some machinery (Keck, Vanoverbeke and Waldenberger 8).
The trade between Japan and the EU has been characterized by many trade agreements. All the agreements have been shaped by the need to open Japan’s market, which has for many years puzzled many of its trade partners. The reason why it has been hard to penetrate Japan’s market is that the country has a unique economy and society. Its ability to invent new products and services has also made it hard for foreign products to beat those of Japan.
Since the two (Japan and the EU) started to trade with each other, there have been several trade agreements between them. On January 1st, 2002, the two signed the EU-Japan mutual recognition agreement. This agreement required the two to cooperate in the assessment of the conformity to previous agreements on products such as electrical appliances, telecommunication and radio equipment, and laboratory practices for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals. The aim of the conformity assessment was to ensure that both trade partners respected the regulations touching on the trade of the mentioned products.
This agreement was followed by the agreement on cooperation on anti-competitive activities signed in 2003 and aimed at ensuring that there was a level playing field between Japan and the EU in their trade. This particular agreement was perhaps occasioned by the persistent closure of Japan’s market, even after attempts to completely open it to its trade partners. According to the EU, The desire for Japan and the EU to intensify their trade made the two hold a summit in 2008, during which they agreed to jointly pursue a free trade agreement (“European Union: Countries and Regions:Japan” par 7).
The need for a free trade agreement was aimed at identifying non-tariff barriers which the EU had encountered in accessing Japan’s market. In 2012, the task force which was mandated with looking at the feasibility of a free trade agreement recommended the launching of free trade negotiations between Japan and the EU. In 2013, the first round of the negotiations was held in Brussels where the two reached a consensus on the issue.
Japan’s Trade with Australia
The other country which has entered into a trade agreement with Japan is Australia. In 2014, the total two-way trade between the two countries amounted to $70 billion. The leading exports to Japan from Australia included liquified gas, coal, iron ore, beef, and copper products in that order. On the other hand, the leading exports to Australia from Japan included passenger service vehicles, refined petroleum, goods vehicles, transport services, and rubber in that order.
According to Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade, Australia’s investments in Japan were valued at $50 billion while those of Japan in Australia was valued at $130 billion in 2013 (“Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Japan Country Brief Overview” par 15). In the same year, Japan was Australia’s 6th largest destination of stock investment and 3rd largest foreign investor (“Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: About the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement” par 3).
The trade between the two countries has for many years been characterized by almost balancing volumes of exports and imports. However, the two signed an agreement known as the Australian economic partnership agreement in January 2015. The agreement was aimed at enhancing the growth of two-way investment by enabling Australia to gain unlimited access to Japan’s market and investment opportunities.
Japan’s Trade with the US
The trade relationship between the US and Japan has been explained by many commentators as a classic case of enemies turned to allies. The explanation behind this analogy is that since the time of the two World Wars, Japan and the US have had nasty relationships characterized by enmity, politics of domination and elimination, and sharp ideological differences. After World War II, Japan’s economy was highly disrupted and as a result, it lost grounds for competition with western industrial nations like the US. As explained earlier, Japan’s post-war economic strategy was primarily focused on catching up with the US in terms of economic and social development. Its economic fortunes of 1960 to 1990 brought it to the limelight and enabled it to compete with the US in trade and technology.
After realizing Japan’s unstoppable momentum in advancement in technology, the US had no option other than to turn Japan into an ally in international development. From 2000, the US became not only Japan’s leading trade partner but also a great ally in political and military affairs. As of 2013, Japan was one of the US’ most trusted international allies. At the present, the two consider each other as indispensable allies due to the sharing of economic, political, and social ideologies. In fact, Japan is a key player in pushing US’ interests in Asia.
According to the office of US trade representative, the total value of trade between the two countries amounted to $290 billion in 2012 (“The Office of US Trade Representative: U.S.-Japan Economic Harmonization Initiative” par 7). The total exports were $116 billion and the total imports were $173 billion. However, the playing field between the two countries was not level as the US registered a deficit of $57 billion, meaning that it imported more than what it exported to Japan. Japan’s total exports and imports of goods to and from the US amounted to $204 billion in 2013, making Japan the 4th largest trading partner of the US. Japan’s total exports and imports of services to and from the US amounted to $73 billion, with services imported from the US exceeding services exported by $19 billion in 2013.
According to the US Department of State, Japan’s foreign direct investment in the US was $308 billion in 2013, with insurance and finance taking the largest share. On the other hand, the US’ foreign direct involvement in Japan was $134 billion, with wholesale and manufacturing sectors taking the largest share (“US Department of State, Diplomacy in Action: US Relations with Japan” par 7).
In an effort to strengthen trade between them, the two countries launched what they termed as the US-Japan economic harmonization initiative in 2010. The initiative was aimed at enhancing the economic growth of the two countries through collaborative approaches in addressing various trade challenges and pushing for a common interest in regional trade. The initiative also aimed at coming up with ways of facilitating increased trade between the two countries.
Use of monetary policy to affect exports and imports
One of the key policy measures taken by the Japanese government in an effort to regulate imports and exports is the ‘Abenomics’ policy. This policy originated with the newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2012. The policy aims at undertaking elaborate fiscal expansion to liberalize the Japanese economy.
Once in force, the policy is expected to open Japan’s market to imports from its major trading partners such as the US. The policy, therefore, aims at creating a win-win situation for the two countries because they would increase the volume of goods and services traded between them. However, policy analysts have pointed out that the policy may have the negative effect of weakening the Japanese Yen against the US dollar and possibly give the US an upper hand in its trade with Japan.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has also entered into negotiations aimed at promoting free trade with trade partners in Asia and the Pacific region. The negotiations have resulted in the signing of two agreements namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (Hübner 72).
Japan’s Internal Policy on Trade
The Trade Control Policy
Since the end of the Second World War, Japan was generally a closed nation. In fact, it was considered as an island that was capable of depending on itself in everything, including health, agriculture, and education. However, the country was not able to trade with itself and thus the need to cooperate with other countries. But before any formal cooperation could start, the country used to sell its high-quality products to other markets, but it did not buy anything from them.
The reason was that many of the products from other countries were of lower quality than those of Japan. The only thing that the country could have imported was agricultural products such as food, meat among others. However, that was still not possible because its agricultural sector by then was very vibrant and was capable of producing enough food to feed the country’s low population (“Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry: Trade Control par” 3).
When the country’s population started to increase, the country’s agricultural sector was unable to feed it and therefore, there was a need to import food from other countries such as the US and EU. The importation of food by Japan has been described by many commentators as the first attempt to open Japan’s market not only for food items but also for other products. When the country started to import food, its government put strict barriers on products from other countries.
However, those restrictions were not to last for long. When the country was elevated to the international platform in terms of trade in the late 1990s, a lot of pressure mounted on it to abolish barriers to its market. The reason was that as an international player in the trade, it was unfair for it to restrict access to its market, yet it was a leading exporter and investor in other countries. As a result, the country opened the market to foreign products, but still, there was a challenge because the products of other countries could not match the quality of those of Japan and therefore, the market was theoretically opened but practically closed.
The country has had internal policies on trade for a long time. Many of the policies have been aimed at protecting Japan’s market from competition from other countries. However, it is good to mention the fact that Japan’s protectionist policies have not been based on restricting the entry of products from other countries, but on the culture of innovation. Japan is considered a hub of technological and manufacturing innovation. It is through innovation and creativity that the country has managed to protect its market because its products are better than those of other countries.
Even though Japan does not have a clear policy on restricting the entry of products into its market, it has had a policy that encourages free trade. The policy is known as the trade control policy and has been in operation since 2000. Many international analysts have described the policy as Japan’s response to fierce criticism from other countries on its reluctance to open its market.
Even though Japan is viewed as one of the countries advocating for free trade due to the various agreements it has signed with other countries on free trade, the country uses the trade control policy to ensure that free trade is done in a way that does not compromise the county’s security and environment.
In particular, the policy aims at ensuring that there is no proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the country. It also aims at ensuring that foreign investors are subjected to the policy so that they do not damage Japan’s environment. Through the policy, the country also aims at putting on check what is referred to as export dumping, a situation where countries export or even donate those products which they consider as obsolete. Examples of such products include electronic and telecommunication equipment. Since these products produce radioactive elements after a certain period of time, some countries export or donate them to other countries with the aim of dumping them.
The policy also checks the originality of products to ensure there is no smuggling of goods into Japan. Through the policy also, the country is able to ensure that trade with other countries is done in compliance with the international laws on foreign exchange. The idea is to ensure that all imports are subjected to customs duty and that currency conversion is done according to the internationally agreed laws on foreign exchange.
In order to understand what an exchange rate is, it is good to view a currency as a commodity of trade. The trade on currencies is necessitated by the fact that countries have different currencies. When people move to another country, they need to buy the currency of that country in order for them to be able to pay for services and goods which they need.
There are two types of exchange rates namely fixed and floating exchange rates. A fixed-rate is one in which the exchange rate is kept constant, that is, the price of the currency is fixed at a certain amount against different currencies. The rate is fixed by the central bank of a given country. When the central bank of a country fixes the rate, it usually ensures that it has in stock enough supply of different currencies to accommodate the fluctuating demand.
A floating exchange rate on the other hand is one that is not controlled by governments but is left to the forces of demand and supply at the international market. It means that when the demand for a certain currency for example the US dollar is high, the exchange rates for the dollar against other currencies go up and vice versa. With the floating exchange rate, the central bank of a country does not necessarily need to intervene. But in some cases, central banks may take some measures to cushion their countries’ currencies from depreciation.
The value of a currency depends on its demand as well as the number of people using it in their transactions. The US dollar is considered a major currency on the international platform. The reason is that the US economy is relatively strong compared to other economies and as a result, the value of other currencies heavily depends on the US dollar because the US is a major source of imports for many countries. It is also a major destination of goods from many countries.
The currency of Japan is known as the Japanese Yen, abbreviated as JPY. It is a free-floating currency and the 3rd most traded currency across the globe. The currency leads the pack of most traded currencies in Asia. The reason for the high demand for the Japanese Yen is that Japan has experienced economic growth for some time. Japan has also become a leading investor in the world (“European Union: Countries and Regions: Japan” par 5). The other reason behind the high demand for the Japanese Yen is that it attracts low-interest rates compared to other major currencies such as the US and Australian dollars. As a result, many people use it for trade purposes where they sell it and buy other currencies that have high-interest rates and make profits.
Japan does not have a clear monetary policy to control the value of its currency. The reason is that it is a global leader in advocating for free trade and therefore, coming up with a policy to control the value of its currency would be self-defeating, to say the least.
The future of the Japanese Yen is not easy to predict. The reason is that its value is dependent on other major currencies such as the US dollar and the Euro. However, Japan is undertaking a serious campaign aimed at swaying investors to abandon the US dollar in favor of the Japanese Yen. With many investors using the Japanese Yen as their main currency, Japan hopes that the value of its currency would rise to the level of the US dollar or even further.
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