It might have been a dream come true for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe, when the Maiden Edition of the Liberia-Japan Dialogue kicked off Thursday, July 3, in the C. Cecil Dennis Auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia.
Both leaders have for a long time craved the establishment of a strong and efficient Liberia-Japan partnership, especially in the private sector, with business and investment at its center.
It may be recalled that during the fifth Tokyo International Conference on Africa Development (TICAD V) held in Japan, Prime Minister Abe held bilateral discussions with President Sirleaf, where they discussed the importance of Japanese investments to Liberia and agreed to initiate a Policy Dialogue between the two governments.
The launch of the Japan-Liberia dialogue in Monrovia brings to realization agreements reached by the two during the TICAD V conference, where the Japanese government also promised to play a more proactive role to assist in accelerating economic growth and development in Africa.
The Monrovia Dialogue brought together participants from the Japanese Business sector, led by Japanese Ambassador to Liberia, Naoto Nikai, and officials of the Liberian Government and Liberia’s private sector executives, led by Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan.
The main focus of the dialogue was on enhancing trade, commerce and investment opportunities between the two countries. Participants had the opportunity to discuss the importance of Japanese investment to Liberia and vice versa. They initiated a Policy Dialogue between the two governments.
Addressing the opening of the dialogue were Liberian Foreign Minister Ngafuan, Commerce Minister Axel M. Addy, Japanese Ambassador Nikai and Senior Vice President of Mitsubishi Corporation, Mr. Sachio Kaneki. They gave the opening remarks at the ceremony that was held under the theme, “Harnessing Bilateral Partnership for Robust Private Sector Development in Liberia”.
Japanese Ambassador Nikai, in his remarks, noted that the Dialogue is one of the Japanese Government’s initiatives at the TICAD V to promote the economic growth of Africa through encouraging business activities between Japan and Africa.
Commenting on Japan’s determination to invest in Liberia, the Japanese Envoy said that Japanese private companies are greatly interested in exploring their business opportunities in Africa. In connection to that, they expect that the Government will also undertake particular efforts in creating business-friendly environments for them so that they will be able to smoothly introduce themselves to the marketplace in Liberia,” he said.
He recounted the long standing, historic relationship both countries share dating as far back as 1961, when the bilateral relationship was established.
He also spoke of the numerous assistances his government had extended to Liberia. One of the noteworthy initiative is the construction of the Somalia Drive highway from Red-Light to Free-Port that is ongoing.
“While I believe that Japanese Official Development Assistance will remain playing very important roles in backing sustainable development of the country, increase foreign direct investment, and further engagement of the public sector will boost the economic development in Liberia,” Ambassador Nikai noted.
Minister Ngafuan, in his remarks, urged Liberian and Japanese business executives to identify areas of common interests and activities within the framework of business and investment promotions.
“. . . in furtherance of our ties and as a way to cement our cherished relationship with Japan, we look forward to the promised reopening of the Japanese Embassy in Monrovia, which will further bolster the friendship and ties between Liberia and Japan and ease the process of acquiring visas and boost trade and investment between our two countries.”
Mitsubishi Corporation Senior Vice President, Mr. Kaneki, for his part, expressed appreciation to both governments for what he called a remarkable decision that brought together the private sector from each country. While encouraging his array of Japanese companies present at the occasion to explore new investment opportunities in Liberia, the Mitsubishi Corporation Senior Vice President added that the economic relationship between Liberia and Japan is not new: “In Japan, Liberia has been known as the most famous country for business registration,” he said. He further hailed Liberia’s maritime program which he noted has hundreds of ships flying the Liberian flag which covers about 12.5% of total operating ships in the world.
Liberia’s Commerce Minister Axel Addy hoped that the opportunities for exchanges will lead to new beginning of strong and responsible partnerships between the business communities of both countries. “The essence of these two days is that the magic will happen and you will leave here with clear path to investment opportunities exploring new partnerships with the domestic private sector.”
The Japanese will pay a one-day working visit to the Port City of Buchanan today. The Buchanan offices of the National Port Authority (NPA) and the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC) will make presentations on welfare of the Buchanan Port's commercial pier and LPRC facilities, respectively.
The Liberia-Japanese investment partnership talks continue today.