Japanese companies are increasingly in “wait and see” mode with regard to expanding their business overseas, according to a JETRO survey at the end of 2022. Although 43.5% of all those who responded to the survey (3,118) who already had operations outside Japan said they were going to invest further in their global business, this was outstripped by the 49.1% who said they would maintain their investment levels overseas “as is” and 5.2% who said they would reduce or withdraw from overseas business. This compares to 2019 where 66.9% who said they would invest more, 28.5% said they would maintain investment levels and 1.7% who were shrinking or withdrawing from overseas. This trend is stronger in larger companies than small and medium sized ones. 51% of those respondents who did not have any overseas operations said they were not intending to invest outside Japan in 2022, compared to 40.9% in 2019.
EU selected by 20.7%, UK by 2.6% for expansion
Chemicals, foods, electrical machinery and software were the bright spots in terms of overseas expansion. Top 3 destinations were USA (selected by 29.6%), Vietnam (26.5%) and China (26.4%), with the EU at number 4 (20.7%). The UK was 16th, selected by 2.6%. Product areas most focused on the EU were textiles and clothing and timber products – furniture and pulp.
Reasons for choosing regions to expand in were primarily around market size and growth potential, that there is a concentration of purchasers there – interestingly there is a clear difference between the USA (most of the sectors being targeted being manufacturing, so presumably Japanese companies B2B sales to other Japanese or US companies) whereas to Vietnam it is non-manufacturing, and more B2C, logistics and construction.
13% of respondents with overseas operations have already onshored or are looking at onshoring, particularly in health and beauty products, petrochemical and plastic products and IT equipment and components. Unsurprisingly, the key reason cited by 60% for doing so was the increased cost of manufacturing outside Japan. Other concerns are the falling yen and the long term the shortage of supplies – however it seems global logistics is becoming easier again.
Business transformation and hiring non-Japanese employees
In terms of changing business strategy or business model to deal with global trends, 30.5% said they were already undertaking business transformation, 39% said there was a need to change their strategy or model but they had not done it yet and 26.8% did not see any need for change.
Those who were transforming their businesses were doing it through acquiring new personnel (both domestic and overseas), or redeploying existing personnel. 51.5% have now hired someone non-Japanese in Japan – the highest level yet. A shortage of domestic personnel was the top reason for doing so, but not far behind were reasons to do with improving overseas marketing, management and negotiation strength, and also to globalise the HQ.
33.5% are undertaking digital transformation in 2022, compared to 28% in 2021, particularly in financial services and IT services. Reducing carbon emissions is well advanced in Japan (78.4% of large companies are undertaking zero carbon initiatives) but not so advanced with their overseas supply chains, with 40.6% of large companies having taken any steps and only 11.6% of small and medium sized companies including their overseas supply chains in any initiatives. Japanese customers are more demanding on carbon emission standards than overseas customers – 17% of Japanese have asked for statements of compliance on carbon emissions, but only 12% of overseas customers have done so.
Only 10% of Japanese companies have been conducting due diligence on human rights, but over 50% intend to do so within the next year. Over 50% of large Japanese companies have been asking for statements of compliance on human rights from their suppliers.
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