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Japan’s foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia

Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi may travel to Egypt and Jordan as well as meeting with the GCC Kyodo
Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi may travel to Egypt and Jordan as well as meeting with the GCC
  • Yoshimasa Hayashi to meet Gulf counterparts in September
  • Japan’s 2022 trade with UAE and Saudi topped $100bn
  • Free trade talks and green energy top of agenda

Japan plans to hold a foreign ministers’ meeting with the six member states of the GCC in Saudi Arabia in early September.

A free trade deal with the bloc is high on the agenda, said Kyodo news agency, citing diplomatic sources.

Japan is aiming to strengthen relations with oil producers in the Middle East to ensure a stable energy supply.

Foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is expected to attend the GCC meeting, said Kyodo’s sources, and visits to Egypt and Jordan are also under consideration.

Japan relies on the GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – for over 90 percent of its crude oil.

During a trip to the region last month, Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida met GCC secretary general Jasem Mohamed Al Budaiwi and agreed to resume negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA).

The foreign ministers are expected to discuss the trade talks as well as possible co-operation on next-generation energy technologies.

In Egypt, Hayashi intends to participate in Tokyo’s third round of political dialogue with the Arab League.

The Japanese government is also arranging bilateral talks with some GCC and Arab League member states, the sources added.

Trade between Japan and the GCC members stood at around $80 billion in 2021, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE making up around 80 percent of the total. The relationship is growing rapidly: in 2022 Japan’s trade with the UAE and Saudi Arabia alone topped $100 billion.

“Oil underpins much of GCC-Japan trade,” Freddie Neve, senior Middle East associate at think tank Asia House, said last month. “But Japan is increasingly interested in the opportunities emerging from the Gulf’s development of alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen.”

A round-table meeting, attended by Kishida and Saudi investment minister Khalid Al Falih last month, announced 26 agreements in sectors including healthcare, green energy, chemicals, manufacturing, finance, technology, agriculture, environment and real estate.

Ahead of Kishida’s visit to the region, he said in a statement that he would be proposing a Global Green Energy Hub initiative.

“By fully utilising these strengths of both countries, we can together turn the Middle East into a global hub in the supply chain of the next-generation fuels and mineral resources,” the prime minister said.

Tokyo also intends to propose a Japan-UAE Innovation Partnership described as an “enlarged framework for industrial collaboration”.

Kishida highlighted the countries’ co-operation in space ventures: the UAE’s KhalifaSat satellite and Mars probe were both carried by Japanese H2-A rockets.

“I am confident that future-oriented efforts such as this will lead to a greater success in the near future,” he said.

Asia House’s Neve added: “Gulf sovereign wealth funds in particular are looking towards Japan for growth opportunities and assets that can support their own countries’ economic diversification away from oil.

“On the other hand, Japan is interested in the investment opportunities arising from the Gulf’s economic diversification.”