BH & EU, INTERVIEWS

Japan’s Role in the Progress of BiH and Eventual EU Accession is Crucial

 

Ambassador of Japan to BiH Hideo Yamazaki

[wzslider]For his interview with ‘Sarajevo Times’, Ambassador of Japan to BiH Hideo Yamazaki delved into the most pertinent issues that BiH faces today, and the forms of assistance that the Japanese Embassy provides to our country. Since peace consolidation, ethnic reconciliation and environmental protection are one of the key components of Japan’s assistance policy to BiH, Japan is currently implementing a number of projects in BiH to achieve these goals, and many of these projects are focused on strengthening the development of municipalities and local communities. The Ambassador also noted that Japan is involved in helping the sustainable return of refugees and IDP’s and in demining efforts and focuses its activities at the local level. Regarding the level of trade between these two countries, it is difficult to accurately measure due to complexities involved in trade relations, but he also said that the number is small since there are numerous Japanese products sold on the BiH market. With the EU accession of BiH at the forefront, Japan views the EU membership of BiH as mutually beneficial for these two countries, since Japan and the EU share many core values and economic relations between Japan and BiH would improve. This would pave the way for more investments of Japanese companies in BiH and a higher level of cooperation, as BiH moves closer towards complying with strict EU standards, especially in environmental protection.

By: Medina Malagić

What is the level of trade cooperation between Japan and BIH, more specifically the level of exports from BiH to Japan? The “Foodex Fair” took place recently in Tokyo with the participation of several BiH companies and the VTK BiH said this would improve trade relations with Japan. Do you think that this is one of the first significant steps that would contribute to improving trade relations between the two countries?

According to the official statistics from the Foreign Trade Chamber of BiH, the trade volume between Japan and BiH last year was approximately 22 million KM. (Import from Japan: 21,813,000KM, Export to Japan: 399,000KM) This number is rather small in light of the facts that there are so many Japanese products being sold in BiH. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. Firstly, the large percent of the Japanese products are imported through other countries in Europe where the major Japanese companies have regional distribution centers. Therefore, the import of these Japanese products is reflected in the trade statistics between BiH and these European countries. Secondly, many Japanese companies have production facilities outside of Japan. Therefore, the products of Japanese companies that are made outside of Japan are not counted as the products imported from Japan. For these reasons, it is hard to measure the level of the presence of the Japanese companies in BiH. As for the export of the products of BiH to Japan, I am very happy that 4 wineries and 1 food processing company participated in FOODEX 2013 and had a very successful presentation of their products. I have heard that these companies already received some concrete orders from Japanese importers. Even our first lady Mrs. Akie Abe visited the pavilion of BiH companies and she enjoyed the taste of fine Herzegovinian wines. Reading the reviews of Japanese visitors, these wineries have succeeded in changing the image of BiH from a “war-torn country” to a “European country that can produce elegant wines”. I believe that in order to improve trade relations, the improvement of the image of BiH is crucial. In this sense, their participation in Foodex 2013 was definitely a significant step forward.

The website of the Japanese Embassy states that efforts in economic progress and reconciliation as part of the peace process as a basic policy of its assistance to BiH. How do you see that social reconciliation and economic recovery mutually inclusive to a country that underwent a brutal conflict? How do projects in BiH supported and funded by the Japanese government strive to achieve these two objectives at the same time?

Peace consolidation and ethnic reconciliation remain as one of the key pillars of our assistance policy to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this field, Japan, as a neutral country, has a special role to play in BiH. Currently, Japan is implementing two technical cooperation projects in order to promote ethnic reconciliation. First one is the “Project for Informatics Curricula Modernization in Bosnia and Herzegovina Phase 2”. This project, which initially started at Mostar Gymnasium in August 2008, entered its second phase in August 2010. This project not only aims at modernizing and standardizing the IT curricula, but also promoting the creation of an educational environment conducive to ethnic reconciliation by making the students of different ethnic groups study together in the same classroom. The textbooks of these classes are translated from Japanese to the local languages. Now, more than 50 schools in the Federation of BiH, Republika Srpska, as well as Brcko District are participating in the project.

The second project is “the Project for Confidence-Building in Srebrenica on Agricultural and Rural Enterprise Development (SACRED)” which aims at fostering ethnic reconciliation among local population through promoting agricultural development. Two Japanese agricultural experts live in the Srebrenica region and work together with the local farmers, and Japan has established two inter-ethnic kindergartens to help the mothers to engage in agricultural activities and to promote ethnic reconciliation. Our project in Srebrenica already produced a positive impact on the local economy as well as ethnic reconciliation among the local population. In this sense, I believe that reconciliation and economy recovery could produce a synergy effect in this country.

It was recently announced that BiH is a country that has one of the most abundant sources of water, not only in the Balkans but also in Europe. The problem is BiH’s mismanagement of water and imports that leave the country without a competitive advantage. One of the consequences is environmental pollution. Since Japan focuses much of its assistance on environmental protection, what activities/projects is Japan involved in on this issue?

The protection of the environment is one of the key pillars of the Japanese assistance policy to BIH, and we have been implementing a number of projects in this field through the Yen Loan grant, technical cooperation as well as providing training courses in Japan. BiH is recently making efforts by introducing EU environmental standards, and Japan has been providing advice on policy and capacity development in such areas as global climate change, anti-pollution, energy conservation, and recycling of resources. Japan recently decided to provide assistance in the amount of approximately 1.3 million KM to the new project “The Vrbas River Basin Environment and Tourism Development Programme” through the Japan-UNDP Trust Fund. This project will adopt a comprehensive approach from awareness raising, clean-up activities such as Eko Regatta, installation of a wastewater treatment plant, enforcement of environmental regulations, as well as support to various sports and tourism associations. Moreover, Japan has started the implementation of new technical cooperation projects.

Can you tell us more about the activities in which the Japanese Embassy is involved in regarding the proliferation of cultural activities in BiH. Have cultural programs contributed to a greater interest among BiH citizens for Japanese culture? Are there any BiH-Japan cultural exchange programs for students/research scholars?

I have the impression that more and more people in BiH are becoming interested in Japanese culture. Two years ago, we organized ‘Days of Japan in Sarajevo’ and ‘Days of Japan in Banja Luka’. Last year, we organized ‘Japanese Culture Week in Sarajevo’ and invited a producer of a world famous anime ‘Ghost in the Shell’, as well as an exhibition of Japanese painting ‘Hanga’. We received around 1000 visitors in a week. This year, we are planning to organize ‘Japanese Culture Month’ in September. For the moment, our plan is to organize an ‘Exhibition of Japanese dolls’, a ‘Concert of Japanese Drum band’ and ‘Sushi workshop’ and so on. I hope there will be more people who will visit our events this year. I would also like to emphasize that we have been sending scholarship students to Japan since 1997. We offer the scholarships at master and doctoral levels and we also have a scholarship program for teachers who have 5 years work experience to study more about the Japanese teaching system. I am very happy that there are many former scholarship students who are very active in different fields in BiH. Both programs cover almost all costs for study at university in Japan, and I hope there will be more and more people who are interested in these programs.

Japan also places a heavy emphasis on projects whose aim is to strengthen municipal development. In what areas have projects contributed to the most improvement at the local level? What do you see as the long-term benefits, and more specifically, what role does development at the local level play in paving the way for BiH’s possible accession to the EU?

When it comes to the projects aimed at strengthening municipal development, Japan has been actively utilizing our small scale grant scheme called “Grant Program for Grass Roots and Human Security Assistance,” and we have implemented approximately 200 projects through Grant Assistance for Grass Roots and Human Security Program (GAGP) in the fields of primary healthcare, education, demining, water supply, etc. Looking at the map of BiH, it is rather fair to say that it is difficult to find the municipalities that have not received our assistance. This year, we have signed grant contracts for 10 new projects under the GAGP program.

Japan fully supports the accession of BiH to the EU and many of our projects are aimed at assisting the efforts of BiH to realize this goal. Japan and the EU share such common values as democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, and other civil rights. Also, the accession of BiH to the EU will open up the potential of a new economic relationship between Japan and BiH. Especially in the area of environmental protection, there are many opportunities for Japanese companies to offer cooperation to BiH in meeting the strict EU environmental standards as BiH goes forward with the accession process.

Apart from offering assistance in economic recovery and environmental protection, Japan is also part of the peace implementation council that focuses on issues such as return of refugees and de-mining efforts. Can you tell us how exactly Japan is assisting the return of refugees throughout BiH? How much is the success of projects in these areas affected by the level of cooperation with local authorities? And how would you assess cooperation with municipalities and other relevant institutions in BiH in carrying out these vital projects?

Japan has been actively supporting the return of refugees and IDPs in BiH through various developmental tools so far in cooperation with the relevant authorities of BiH. In particular, through our GAGP program, we have implemented numerous projects at the local level in order to encourage the sustainable return of refugees and IDPs by clearing the minefields and providing opportunities for the returnees to earn incomes. One such example is the “Project for Improvement of Agricultural Production for Sustainable Return in Buna Region” which started in 2008 in cooperation with the Government of the Federation of BiH. In this project, Japan supported the sustainable return of Serb refugees and IDPs to the Buna region by providing agricultural equipment to the agricultural cooperative in Buna. Thanks to this project, over the years ethnic Serb returnees have drastically increased the production of agricultural products and enabled their return sustainable. In addition to our bilateral assistance, Japan is one of the major donors to the UNHCR, and has provided approximately 400 million USD to UNHCR since 1992 for their activities.

You announced in a meeting with the BiH Minister of Defense Japan’s commitment and that of the Embassy in supporting BiH on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly in resolving the issue of military property. What is the nature of the Japanese Embassy’s involvement in helping to resolve this issue?

Japan has committed to the peace implementation process in BiH since the stabilization of BiH contributes to regional stability and prosperity. Due to the same reason, Japan supports BiH’s path to Euro-Atlantic integration.Now, BiH is very close to have its participation in NATO-MAP approved, which is a great step towards the full membership to NATO. As the registration of military properties is a last condition for MAP participation, Japan believes that the resolution of this issue will bring great achievement to this process. In addition to that, resolving this issue is required under “the five objectives and two conditions” for the closure of OHR. Therefore, Japan also strongly hopes to see this issue settled as soon as possible. As a member of PIC Steering Board, Japan, in cooperation with other members, will encourage all parties concerned to try to reach a consensus through their dialogue and in accordance with the Constitution and the legal framework in BiH.

 

 

 

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