Japanese food firms finding joy in the UAE as government strives to hit export target

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Japan and UAE seeking to strengthen bilateral ties ©Getty Images
Japan and UAE seeking to strengthen bilateral ties ©Getty Images

Related tags Japan Uae Food exports Middle east

Japanese food companies entering the Middle East market are on the rise, with the UAE the hotspot for firms seeking to make their mark in the region.

According to Akihiko Nakajima, Japanese Ambassador to the UAE, he recently namechecked food and beverage as a growing area, alongside the traditional sectors of oil and gas.

Some Japanese food manufacturing MNCS with a presence in UAE are Yakult Middle East, Kawasho Foods Gulf, and KamiFoods.

Toshiya Sorimachi, director of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and food at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO Dubai) told FoodNavigator-Asia​: “There is growing interest and appreciation for Japanese cuisine in this region​.

Japanese foods are known to be high quality and safe which makes them acceptable to UAE consumers​,” he said.

Most Japanese products can be found at department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores.

Attractive location

Most of the new Japanese businesses have established themselves in free zones such as the Dubai Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), which offer many incentives to private entities.

Toshiya said: “UAE is an attractive location for Japanese countries because it is in the hub of Middle East. The population is also increasing which means more opportunities​.”

Dr. Jun Saito, associate senior researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO) agreed, adding: “UAE is an international logistics hub, so Japanese food manufacturers can supply their products not only to the UAE market but also to the other Middle East and Africa markets​.”

Jun told FoodNavigator-Asia​ that the expansion of Japanese companies into the UAE had been extraordinarily dynamic compared to that of other Middle East countries as, “the consumer market in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are larger than that of the UAE.”

Japanese companies in general do not appear to be overly enthusiastic about setting up operations in the Middle East, many of them still prefer the Asian markets.”

In 2018, Hong Kong was the top export destination for Japanese food products, followed by China, US, Taiwan, and South Korea.

“However, within the MENA region, Japanese companies would favour UAE for its tax incentives, stable social situation, and living environment of expatriates in UAE than other Middle Eastern countries,”​ Jun explained.

In terms of trends in the UAE, Jun said health and beauty consciousness among consumers had increased in recent years.

The development of advanced health foods and health maintenance foods in Japan is expected to be accepted by many UAE consumers​.”

Bilateral relations

In April 2018, both countries signed a bilateral investment protection treaty to boost investment flows.

Data from the Ministry of Finance​ showed that food exports in 2018 reached JPY 900 billion (US$8.5 billion).

The Japan government has set the nation’s 2019 goal of achieving JPY 1 trillion (US$8.9 billion) for agricultural, forestry and fishery food exports.

Apart from MNCS, the Japanese Small and Medium Enterprise Agency and JETRO recently opened the UAE-Japan SME Platform in Dubai to attract more Japanese SMEs to the UAE.

As the two countries seek to extend cooperation, Nakajima said Japanese will be taught as a second language in UAE high schools, with the program expected to launch by next year.

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