A tour of Gulf states by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reached Abu Dhabi yesterday with President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan greeting the premier of the world's second largest economy.
A 180-strong business delegation is accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the tour which has touched down in Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Japan is a key trading partner for the GCC.
Total trade between Japan and the GCC jumped 25 percent in 2006 to $111.4 billion dollars in 2006 on the back of a surge in oil prices in recent years.
Trade is not just in one direction. The UAE alone is expected to import up to $5 billion in goods from the Asian superpower.
A free trade agreement (FTA) is being negotiated between the GCC and Japan, with a deal expected to be signed by the end of the year, according to Takuma Hatano, Japan's Ambassador to the UAE.
"All the critical and substantial issues related to the agreement have been already resolved, and accordingly the substance of the agreement should be final by the end of 2007," Hatano said in January this year.
This week's Prime Ministerial delegation from Japan hopes to build trade links with the GCC that move beyond a simple oil for cars and gadgets model.
Officials have been keen to talk up the opportunity for Japan to take a leading role in helping Gulf economies to move towards high technology research, development and manufacturing.
Fujio Mitarai, Chairman of Keidanren - a federation of Japanese business leaders that has organised this week's Middle East tour - says that Japan can help the GCC reduce its reliance on oil exports.
"Japan can provide technological cooperation and fostering human resources," said Mitarai, who is also chairman of Canon Corp., "I think Japanese support in the fields of the environment and energy saving will be helpful for them. Anyway, natural resource is not unlimited in the end."
During the trip, Prime Minister Abe unveiled a proposal of forging a "multi-layered partnership" beyond oil with the region.
"I want to open a new era of relations between Japan and the Middle East," he said. "I would like to activate our wide-ranged, strategic dialogue."
Saudi's King Abdullah and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan agreed on the call.
"It is desirable to see a business delegation visit our country together with the prime minister," Shaikh Khalifa told Abe, according to the Japanese official.
"I hope this will be a cue to further strengthen relations between the UAE and Japan. It is important (for the UAE) to have the presence of Japanese companies, no matter whether they are engaged in energy or not."
Initial moves of Japanese support particularly in the environment have already begun in Kuwait, where Tokyo is helping the Arab state clean up Kuwait Bay.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.