Exclusive Interview: The German Chamber of Commerce

J@pan Inc talks to Manfred Hoffman, Executive Director and Delegate of German Industry and Commerce

By Sarah Noorbakhsh

Can you tell us about the Chamber?
The chamber performs three specific functions. In addition to the original function of a chamber, we also consider ourselves a service provider for German companies trying to access the Japanese market. Our staff of 30 employees provides info and support for small and medium, both member and nonmember, businesses. We also provide info and support for Japanese companies who are interested in Germany. Many leading trade fairs are held in Germany, and Japanese companies who wish to participate can come to us for assistance. Thirdly, we work in the interest of promoting German-Japanese relations. We work in close cooperation with the embassy, and meet with politicians, the media and the press.

Manfred HoffmanManfred Hoffman Executive Director and Delegate of German Industry and Commerce

Historically, what kind of trade relationship have Japan and Germany had?
Pharmaceuticals, the automotive and chemical industries have a long tradition, and larger companies from Germany active in those fields maintain a very good relationship with Japan. On the other side, some new market shares or new products and fields which are focusing on Japan now—for example, companies with specific environmental protection or energy saving technologies, nano-technology and biotechnology. There are many German companies active with very interesting products and projects starting new activities here in Japan. Yet although media coverage gives the impression that new activities are a large focus, in reality we can’t neglect traditional relationships either. We have to see both sides: traditional markets and new developments trying to find or form a certain future in the Japanese-German relationship.

What advice do you give businesses considering making the jump into Germany or Japan?
When entering the European market we usually give companies advice to visit international fairs and exhibitions in Germany, to get a good overview of the industry. Fairs and exhibitions, especially highly specialized exhibitions, are important for companies who have not yet invested in a country. They’re really useful to get an overview of an industry in a really efficient and direct form, and to talk directly to exhibitors. International trade fairs are really effective, because they often feature the most important players and newest products and solutions in a market. In Japan it’s a different story, and although there are many interesting fairs here most of them are less international compared to a lot of fairs in Germany. So when entering the Japanese market it’s really important to choose a fair with key clients and business partners. Exhibitions from Germany are also beginning to operate in China as well and we see more and more Japanese companies using these to find business partners in Asia.

Are there any main issues that you focus on as a Chamber?
There are some problems, for example standards and technical regulations, but those are problems not only for German companies but also for European companies, and we are trying to create change together with our colleagues from other European countries, working to solve those problems as European institutions. We are one of the major stakeholders in the European Business Council (EBC), and many of our companies are also active within Japanese business associations. Ultimately, German companies in Japan often have the same problems as domestic corporations; they have to defend their interests together with the Japanese companies. Only if we face a specific problem as a foreign country, then we have to see how to defend those interests. And then it’s interesting to find those European organizations, or even possibly to work together with the US chamber for example. It always depends on the type of problems—it’s the most efficient way to change things.

But recently we have seen an interesting development that shows those national barriers as disappearing. For example, many larger German companies consider themselves to be international. The management, for example, is often from all over the world. Take for example the German automotive industry. The head of BMW in Japan is Spanish, Audi is French, and Volkswagen is Greek; only the top of Daimler is German (laughs). So you can see that things are very much changing. It’s not a question of German or not German, it’s advanced globalization.

How did the German Innovation Award come about?
We think that in the German-Japanese relationship, R&D and innovation are very important points. Japan and Germany are similar; we have a certain lack of resources, we have a highly developed scientific level, we have problems with the environment, energy, and so on, we have problems with an aging society, etc. It’s obvious to use fields of joint activity to find solutions for those challenges. And it’s especially of interest for both academic institutions and corporations to increase the cooperation on both sides. So we work very hard every time we find an interest for both sides to increase cooperation and make new connections. The Japanese side is interested in increasing cooperation between Japanese companies and German scientific institutions as well. We decided to organize the German Innovation Award with major companies from Germany, inviting Japanese researchers to participate and giving awards to the best young scientific researchers in the fields of energy and environment, healthcare, as well as safety and security.

What Japanese institutions are you working with?
Many institutions are mainly in the field of nano-technology, biotechnology, energy and robotics. German companies have many R&D partnerships with large Japanese companies, but this is a little more difficult for small-to-medium companies. The scientific field is where we see a lot of potential for the future, but both sides have problems finding each other. Japanese small and medium businesses hesitate to contact international foreign companies, and on the other side, smaller German companies find it difficult to come in contact with Japanese companies because large companies in Japan just go according to the manual. To identify a small to medium business in Japan and create a relationship as a partner is difficult because of the language barrier, cultural barrier and so on. They need our assistance to identify partners and initiate steps. JI

German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan

Japanese FlagGerman Flag

President: Günter Zorn, DHL Japan, Inc.

Established: 1962

Members: approximately 530

Germany-Japan bilateral trade: ¥36.7 billion (2006)

Major German Players: DHL, Lufthansa, Bosch, Siemens