Japan and the EU are long-standing economic partners, with ties that were recently reinforced with the signing of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement  (EPA). The agreement between the EU and Japan covers trade relations in the largest open economic area that accounts for a quarter of the world’s GDP .
To mirror this bond, the EU Gateway | Business Avenues programme has targeted Japan in each of its editions, during nearly 30 years .
It’s one of the most established target markets with overflowing opportunities for European companies dealing with the EU’s 2nd largest trading partner in Asia.
In 2017, EU Gateway | Business Avenues rolled out a new batch of market scoping missions to Japan for this edition of the programme. For the following 3 years, the programme organised 11 EU-funded market scoping missions  to Japan for over 400 European companies in a variety of sectors.
These 11 missions add up to nearly 100 missions targeting Japan since the launch of the programme in 1990. Since then, more than 3400 European companies  benefitted from their attendance to the numerous missions professionally designed to develop new business in Japan.
The market scoping missions organised since 2017 helped participant companies better understand the Japanese business landscape and set the bases for long-term business plans at a lower cost and with higher success rates.
How was that possible?
The Programme supported participants before, during and after the missions to ensure that logistics and differing cultures did not stay in the way of business. Through the matchmaking process, European companies built a profile of ideal clients and partners and handpicked the right ones for them.
Business exhibitions, strategically organised within the context of larger yet targeted fairs, attracted more than 7200 visitors to the EU pavilions.
Over 3400 business meetings with Japanese companies were pre-arranged by the Programme before the missions. A total of 4514 meetings, also including those organised during the exhibition days or taking place spontaneously on the spot, was deemed useful by the European companies participating to the missions.
Being backed by the EU meant that companies could leverage more influence in interactions with local business players like private companies, governmental bodies, contractors, and manufacturers.
The market scoping missions to Japan acted as entry tickets to a market that is notoriously difficult to enter because of increased competition that favours local companies, business culture differences and regulatory barriers.
While the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement was in negotiation (including for most of this edition of the Programme), companies could still overcome these barriers and greatly benefit from the professional coaching and services offered by the EU. As a result, many deals were forged on the spot or soon after the market scoping missions.
EU Gateway to Japan served both newcomers and established European companies alike. For over 50% of participants, the EU-funded mission was the initial experience in Japan. Nearly 30% already had 5 or more years of experience in Japan at the time of the mission, and the remaining ones had between 2 to 4 years of presence in the market.
The Programme received 1910 expressions of interest from European companies for the 11 missions to Japan. 407 companies participated from 25 of the EU Member States.
From 2017 to 2019, the EU-funded market scoping missions to Japan resulted in tangible results. The numbers from the first 8 missions speak for themselves:
- Within 6 to 12 months from the EU-funded mission, 82% of the companies already started or expected to start new business collaborations in Japan. Among the most common types of collaborations started, thanks to the mission, are distribution agreements (38%), new clients (30%), and local agents (17%). Other outcomes include joint production with local companies, production sub-contracting, joint R&D, licensing, financial investments, and others.
- 39% of the companies either already settled sales (19%) or expected to do so (20%), shortly following the mission.
- 53% of the companies have increased their number of employees within 1 year from their participation. The programme helped create nearly 800 new jobs in Europe, of which 39% are for production roles and 30% for sales & management.
- Besides sales, jobs and collaborations, 78% of participants increased their understanding of the market ensuing the mission.
Getting selected to go on a mission is a highly competitive process to guarantee maximum quality of technologies and services made in the EU. On average, only about 27% of the companies who sent an Expression of Interest were selected to go on a market scoping mission. Still, for those who did get a chance to be part of the mission, the results did not delay showing up.
We have heard countless success stories from our participants:
We managed to establish early relationships, which were definitely enhanced by the local presence through the exhibition. — Alan Gooding, EVP - Channel and Partners, Smarter Grid Solutions (UK), success story  from the Green Energy Technologies mission in 2017.
The great thing about these missions is the fact that everything is done for you. It’s hard enough to get a booth or arrange flights. Arranging meetings is another discussion altogether. It’s hard to put a value on that, because it’s nearly impossible to do that by yourself, without support from the organisers. — Neil Burns, Co-founder Croft Filters (UK), another success story  from the Green Energy Technologies mission in 2017.
We had already studied the market a few years ago. But thanks to the EU Gateway | Business Avenues programme, more doors opened up for us in Japan. — Antoine Mahin, Communication Officer, CODIPRO (Luxembourg), success story  from the Railway Technologies & Services mission in 2017.
After the mission, we had the chance to create new relationships and partnerships especially with three Japanese companies and keep such contacts during the year. – Alberto Mennella, Chief Technical Officer, TopView (Italy), success story  from the Construction & Building Technologies mission in 2018.
During the 2017 mission, we had the chance to meet many people from the prestigious Company East Japan Railway Trading Co. ltd (EJRT). They were interested in our product and company, so they offered to start cooperation as our local partner in Japan and we accepted. From that day, EJRT has become our Japanese representative, signing an official Agency Agreement at the end of 2018. – Eng. Francesco Mannara, Co-Founder – Engineer, IVM s.r.l. (Italy), success story  from the Railway Technologies & Services mission in 2017.
These testimonials are not particular. According to the data collected from previous participants, 97% of the companies said they would apply to another EU-funded mission with the Programme. Above 90% are satisfied or very satisfied with their experience.
In a nutshell, EU Gateway to Japan changed the status quo for European companies in the five sectors it covered: Environment & Water Technologies , Green Energy Technologies , Healthcare & Medical Technologies , Construction & Building Technologies  and Railway Technologies & Services . It stimulated the job market in Europe and brought in revenue from newly established international cooperations.
The programme, perfectly aligned with the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), not only helped establish profitable business projects with Japan but also propelled the European economy forward.
Here is an outline of the EU-funded missions carried out between 2017 and 2020:
1. Green Energy Technologies, 18 to 22 September 2017
The first market scoping mission  in Osaka, Japan, had companies exhibiting at World Smart Energy Week Osaka 2017 and conducting business meetings  with potential clients, suppliers, distributors and partners. Japan is the 4th largest photovoltaic market in the world, planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%  by 2050. This pledge turns the Green Energy Technologies sector into a major target for foreign companies looking at opportunities in Japan, including the 38 EU companies that were selected  for this mission.
When we invited potential participants, there were applications from about 100 companies. Based on preliminary market research, we narrowed this down to 38 companies that are very likely to enter the Japanese market. – Mr Pablo Iglesias Rumbo, Attaché, Trade Section, the Delegation of the EU to Japan.
2. Railway Technologies & Services, 27 November to 1 December 2017
The first mission  for the Railway Technologies & Services sector and the second mission to Japan included a built-up booth at Mass-Trans Innovation Trade Fair in Chiba City (Tokyo Metropolitan area) where participants had their products and technologies promoted  in front of hundreds of visitors. The companies also attended a networking event  held by the EU Delegation to Japan, together with the Governments of Austria and France, to strengthen collaboration between the companies from the EU and Japan.
Japan faces many challenges  in this sector, including an increasing number of tourists, an ageing population and traffic congestion on highly transited means of transportation. This is why innovative technologies  like rolling stock and locomotives, railway infrastructure, railway command, control and communications systems, railway security, safety and crisis management solutions are in high demand on the market.
Here’s what some of the participant companies had to say about the mission:
3. Healthcare & Medical Technologies, 16 to 20 April 2018
This market scoping mission  in Tokyo included two days of exhibition at Medtech 2018 (Tokyo Big Sight Exhibition Centre).
4. Environment & Water Technologies, 21 to 25 May 2018
The first market scoping mission  dedicated to this sector had participant companies showcase in built-up booths in a designated EU Pavilion within the N-EXPO 2018.
The Environment & Water Technologies market size  in Japan is estimated to reach €294 billion by 2020, with an increased demand for technologies linked to the circular economy, water supply management of natural hazards and ICT-enabled projects.
5. Green Energy Technologies, 18 to 22 June 2018
Following the colossal success of the first mission, a second mission  targeting this sector was organised. It included a 3-day exhibition with one day at Grande Renewable Energy 2018 International Conference & Exhibition.
For this mission, the focus was on new solutions  like cost-reduction technologies and products related to self-sustaining power generation facilities, Zero Energy building technologies, Zero Energy house technologies and high-efficiency lighting.
6. Construction & Building Technologies, 18 to 22 November 2018
Construction & Building Technologies was the last of the four missions  targeting Japan organised in 2018.
The market scoping mission  included a 3-day exhibition at Japan Home Show 2018  in Tokyo, where the European companies showcased solutions  catering to the construction of sustainable green buildings: electricity generation and management technologies, grid systems, sensors, IoT technologies, high tech construction materials, IT solutions for construction management, digital construction, and quake protection.
7. Environment & Water Technologies, 11 to 15 March 2019
To kick off the five market scoping missions  organised for Japan in 2019, the Environment & Water Technologies five-day mission  took place in Tokyo. It included four business exhibition days, at N-EXPO 2019, the largest trade fair in Asia focused on the environment and development of a sustainable society.
Companies from the following sub-sectors were the focus of this mission : wastewater treatment, air pollution control, soil prevention, noise protection, freshwater supply and water solutions. Due to Japan’s limited land available for landfills, there are also many opportunities  for companies dealing with waste disposal, management and recycling.
8. Healthcare & Medical Technologies, 17 to 21 March 2019
The second market scoping mission  to Japan for the Healthcare & Medical Technologies sector included two days of exhibition at Medtech 2019, taking place at the Tokyo Big Sight Exhibition Centre.
Once again, the focus  was on companies that provide assistive technologies, medical equipment, ICT for health, telemedicine and remote health monitoring, nanotechnology healthcare, life science and biotechnology for health and dental products.
20% of Japan’s imports of medical devices  are of European origin. Even though Japan is at the forefront of medical innovation, still, some solutions used locally are only produced outside its borders .
Japan strives to be a global leader in the quality of care, and this means that there is a demand for advancements in every segment of the healthcare industry. (…) There has been growing interest in telemedicine, home care and solutions that enable the early detection of cancers (including relapse) and other serious conditions. The government has recently introduced new regulations offering guidelines for telemedicine and allowing remote examinations to be covered under the reimbursement scheme. Japan also introduced a new law elaborating the appropriate handling of personal data in the medical field, and there are also ongoing discussions among regulators about facilitating greater use of artificial intelligence in healthcare. These measures are helping to accelerate the adoption of novel technologies in what has historically been a conservative market. – Paul Mori, expert in Healthcare & Medical Technologies in Japan
With these promising numbers  and the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in place, the mission was bound to be a success.
9. Green Energy Technologies, 24 to 27 September 2019
The third mission dedicated to this sector took place in 2019, in Osaka. The mission week  was comprised of exhibition days, networking events, matchmaking meetings and an on-site visit, and was part of the World Smart Energy Week Osaka event in 2019.
This time around, thanks to the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement in negotiation, most of the tariffs were removed for foreign companies and import requirements were simplified. This started stimulating competition on the market and created even more openings for European companies  in the sector, especially those that provide manufacturing, operations & maintenance solutions  for the solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other clean energy sub-sectors.
10. Construction & Building Technologies, 12 to 15 November 2019
To further promote the opportunities available in Japan in this sector, EU Gateway | Business Avenues organised a free webinar  at the beginning of 2019.
Towards the end of the year, the market scoping mission  took place. In hopes to join the €406 billion market , European companies showcased their products and services during a 3-day exhibition at Japan Home & Building Show 2019 in Tokyo, the largest conglomerate exhibition for housing and the building industry in Japan.
11. Railway Technologies & Services, 26 to 29 November 2019
The mission  included showcases at the Mass Trans Innovation Japan event, the largest event designed for the sector, with over 30,000 visitors, including railway companies and operators, rolling stock manufacturers, researchers and developers of new technologies, manufacturers and suppliers of railway technologies, security & information systems experts, engineers and construction agents, trading agents, administrations, local authorities and ministries, associations and institutions.
Following the success of the 2017 mission, and in light of the new Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement , the second mission was the place to be for companies producing technologically advanced and energy-saving  railway systems like safety technologies, energy storage technologies, railway operation and transport systems, and solutions that serve the sustainable urban living  and mobility branch.