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Japan’s aging population offers unique trade opportunities for B.C. businesses: expert

Vancouver conference outlines ways Canadian government and businesses can deepen relationship with Japan
Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at International Christian University in Tokyo, appeared at the Deepening Canada-Japan Relations in the Indo-Pacific event in Vancouver last week.

B.C. businesses would be smart to examine increasing demand for agricultural products and services for Japan’s aging population

That’s according to a professor from Tokyo’s International Christian University, who dropped into Vancouver last week to attend a conference focused on strengthening relations between Canada and Japan.

“B.C. has tremendous natural resources, whether its forestry resources [or] agricultural resources,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor in politics and international studies, adding the province’s ports are also a boon for stronger ties between the Pacific nation.

His West Coast visit brought him to the Deepening Canada-Japan Relations in the Indo-Pacific event held by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the David Lam Centre at Simon Fraser University.

Nagy told BIV the province should further leverage its advantages and identify key areas in the Japanese market to enhance partnerships between Canada and Japan, a mature market identified in the recent B.C. Trade Diversification Strategy. 

He said that agriculture should be a core area for B.C. businesses to pursue, as the Japanese market is always looking for “reliable, safe, healthy alternatives” in terms of agricultural imports.

“The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) already opens up the door to trade,” said Nagy. “Whether it's those winemakers in the Okanagan – or fruit makers – they should identify partners in Japan.”

A total of $165 million in agriculture and food products (excluding fish) were exported from B.C. to Japan in 2022, according to the B.C. government. That’s the highest number on record, with meat and prepared meat products, and fruits and nuts topping the list.

Only 20 per cent of the island nation is suitable for cultivation, so Japan relies on agricultural imports to feed the population. And the number has been growing. 

Japan imported 9.24 trillion yen (C$85 billion) of agricultural commodities last year – the highest amount in history and a 31 per cent surge from the previous record, according to Statista.

Meanwhile, an aging population in Japan also poses opportunities for B.C. businesses, according to Nagy. More than one in 10 people in Japan are aged 80 or over, making its population among the oldest in the world, according to Japan’s national data.

“We're thinking about an aging population in Japan and where Canada can add value in terms of helping Japan address some of its aging needs. And that could be in terms of governance, it could be in terms of health-care systems and exporting those services to the Japanese market,” he said.

“Looking at the Canadian footprints of small-and-medium-sized enterprises in Canada … there's a whole continuum of services, whether it's health services or insurance, pre-existing Canadian businesses [in Japan] so it's a great opportunity to try and build those networks and find other opportunities within the country.”

Nagy said it’s also important to look at how to get more of Canada’s energy and critical minerals out of Canada into the Indo-Pacific market through B.C. 

“They may be able to work with Japanese partners to develop the technologies that can do that cleanly in an environmentally friendly way that matches the environmental objectives of Canadians but also serves the market within the region,” he said.

He said more needs to be done by both countries on a governmental level, including collaboration on boosting security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, cyber security and expanding the CPTPP to include more countries within the trade agreement. There are 12 potential CPTPP candidates, including South Korea, China and Taiwan.

“Or potentially putting on the table a trade agreement through which the United States is a part of and anchored into the Indo-Pacific region,” Nagy said. “That’s going to be really important for sustaining diplomatic and economic influence within the region.”

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