In terms of the quality and quantity of enquiries to the British chemicals companies that took part in Japan’s annual Life Sciences Week, 2015 was “the best year yet”, believes Neil Harvey, head of international trade for the Chemical Industries Association.
“There has been good traffic at the British companies’ booths and while it has been important to renew contacts with Japanese firms and to build new relationships, we have also found that being here has started to generate business in other international markets”, Harvey said.
Expansion of the event has continued apace in recent years and the 2015 Life Sciences Week attracted 467 exhibitors from 27 countries, making it the largest ever.
Held at the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre in mid-April, the event brings together the CPhI Japan, ICSE, P-MEC, LABWorld, BioPh and InnoPack exhibitions under one roof.
The increased international reach helped UK firms to strike deals with companies from India and the United States during the event.
“A study was carried out in the 1980s because we realised that the British chemicals industry was not doing a great deal of business in Japan,” said Harvey, “and the market research showed that Japan offers some great opportunities for manufacturers in the fine chemicals sector”.
Accessing the market initially proved a challenge, he admitted, for reasons that ranged from Japan’s physical distance from the UK and the language barrier, to Japanese firms’ existing capabilities in the sector. The inaugural Life Sciences Week, held in 2002, has provided UK companies with a vastly improved opportunity to get a foot in the door of the local market.
“The UK is very good at high-tech chemistry and Japan offers some excellent opportunities for companies that are willing to persist here”, Harvey added.
Chemicals faces many of the challenges that other sectors are required to overcome, including the high costs of doing business here and the need to build up trust and a solid working relationship with Japanese partners, but the returns can make the effort worthwhile, Harvey said.
“Japan is the second-largest pharmaceuticals market in the world and even though they’re very advanced, they still want the fine chemical products that the UK manufactures,” he added.
The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is the second-largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with only the food industry contributing more to the national economy.
The gross value added by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry came to approximately GBP15.2 billion in 2013, with approximately 2,500 companies in the chemical sector and a further 500 firms manufacturing pharmaceuticals. Chemical production increased nearly 4 percent in 2014 and output in the first two months of 2015 stood at the highest level since August 2008, the start of the global financial crisis and recession.
The chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector accounted for the largest percentage of British exports in 2014, with overseas sales totalling 20 percent of all manufacturing exports and earning GBP52.4 billion.