Tokyo's reliance on the GCC for almost 80 per cent of its hydrocarbons requirements was very much in evidence in 2000. With the average oil price reaching its highest level for a decade, total trade between Japan and the trading bloc climbed by almost 50 per cent to $49,665 million.
The strong surge was almost entirely due to the oil price factor. Japanese imports from the GCC jumped by 65 per cent to $42,281 million. In stark contrast, Japanese exporters to the Gulf saw total sales drop by 2 per cent to $7,384 million. The upshot was that Tokyo's deficit with the GCC widened by 68 per cent to almost $35,000 million.
'Structural problems with the world economy have hit our exporters,' says Nobuo Sato, managing director of the Dubai office of the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro). 'Japan's economy has been in recession now for almost 10 years and Japanese companies have increasingly moved production overseas to China and South-East Asia. This has also affected trade with the region.'
High exchange rates have not helped Japanese exporters either. The yen has hovered for the last year around 120 to the US dollar, a figure that is widely regarded as too high for exporters. Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa is understood to favour a policy that will gradually weaken the yen, a move that would be welcomed by Jetro. 'It is still too early to say how the yen has affected trade with the GCC. However, a lower rate can only be good for exporters,' says Sato. 'Export figures have fallen for some time in the Middle East. However, this is at a slower rate of decline than we have seen in other markets.'