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Japanese Companies Enter Russian Markets: Report

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Japanese companies are setting politics aside to enter or expand in Russia, a country that is becoming a key European market, the Nikkei Asian Review writes.

For decades, Russia was perceived in Japan as a tough market, with talk about doing business here tending to run along political lines: joint economic activities in the disputed southernmost Kuril Islands or Tokyo’s eight-point cooperation plan. But as the Russian economy recovers, the improving economic outlook is piquing Japanese companies’ interest, as is the fact that Russia is starting to realize its potential as a consumer market, the report says.

The Atrium mall in Moscow is home to Fast Retailing’s first Russian Uniqlo location. It is said to have seen lines for days on end when it opened in 2010. But the crowds have abated now that more stores have opened in the country. Russia already has the most Uniqlos in Europe, with a location opening Friday bringing the count to 35.

The casualwear chain even has multiple outposts in such less-prominent cities as Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Rostov-na-donu, each with a population exceeding 1 million.

“Russian consumers are sensitive to fashion trends,” said a representative at Fast Retailing’s Russian arm. “Even now, we’ve gotten requests from all over to open new stores — there’s a lot of room for growth.”

The Russian economy peaked in 2013 before being battered by a plunge in oil prices as well as sanctions imposed in response to the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

But now it is “on a recovery track, and money is starting to flow back into the country,” said Takafumi Nakai, director of the research division at the Japan-based Institute for Russian & NIS Economic Studies.

Part of its appeal lies in the cities that have underpinned Uniqlo’s expansion. “Russia has 15 cities with at least 1 million people. Nearly all of them have growing populations,” said Tetsuya Umetsu of the Japan External Trade Organization.

For automakers, Russia has not lost its luster as a market despite the slowdown of recent years. The country accounted for the largest share of Toyota Motor‘s European sales volume even when demand was sluggish, and the company hopes to ride the economic recovery to further growth.

Just 1.8 million new cars and light commercial vehicles were sold in Russia last year. Yet Shuji Suga, president of Toyota’s Russian arm, sees the annual figure potentially rising to 3 million. He cites three main reasons: Russia is an oil-producing country with a large economy, it has a population of 144 million, and the number of cars per household remains low.

And because of the market’s penchant for luxury, Toyota’s high-end Lexus brand sells an annual 20,000-plus vehicles in Russia — far more than in Germany or the U.K.

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China, U.S. Agree to Cancel Tariffs in Phases

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China and the United States have agreed to cancel in phases the tariffs imposed during their months-long trade war, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, without specifying a timetable, Reuters informs.

An interim U.S.-China trade deal is widely expected to include a U.S. pledge to scrap tariffs scheduled for Dec. 15 on about $156 billion worth of Chinese imports, including cell phones, laptop computers and toys, Reuters adds.

Tariff cancellation was an important condition for any agreement, ministry spokesman Gao Feng said, adding that both must simultaneously cancel some tariffs on each other’s goods to reach a “phase one” trade deal.

“The trade war started with tariffs, and should end with the cancellation of tariffs,” Gao told a regular news briefing.

The proportion of tariffs cancelled for both sides to reach a “phase one” deal must be the same, but the number to be cancelled can be negotiated, he added, without elaborating. “In the past two weeks, the lead negotiators from both sides have had serious and constructive discussions on resolving various core concerns appropriately,” Gao said.

“Both sides have agreed to cancel additional tariffs in different phases, as both sides make progress in their negotiations.”

A source previously told Reuters that Chinese negotiators wanted the United States to drop 15% tariffs on about $125 billion worth of Chinese goods that took effect on September 1.

They also sought relief from earlier 25% tariffs on about $250 billion of imports, ranging from machinery and semiconductors to furniture.

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Former Obama Officials Pledge Support to Biden as He Trails Top Rivals in Money Race

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In a flex of establishment muscle, a slew of former Obama administration officials came out on Wednesday to support Joe Biden’s Democratic U.S. presidential bid at a time when he is fighting to maintain his front-runner status, Reuters informs.

Biden, 76, who was vice president for eight years under Barack Obama, was the guest at a fundraiser that marked the latest effort by his allies to confront the mounting threat posed in polls and fundraising by his top Democratic rival, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, a progressive who promotes sweeping institutional change, has vowed to change the way Washington does business. Biden has become increasingly reliant on the Democratic political establishment to repel her charge.

Last month, a cadre of Biden’s loyalists launched a Super PAC, something Biden previously resisted. The political action committee allows wealthy donors to give unlimited amounts to support his candidacy. Warren, by contrast, largely accepts only small, online donations, Reuters adds.

Biden and Warren sit atop most national opinion polls, with Warren holding an edge in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and Biden running strongly in other states.

Overall, 17 Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

Biden also has stepped up his attacks on Warren, particularly her embrace of single-payer, government-run healthcare. He has increasingly painted Warren, a Harvard University law professor and senator from Massachusetts, as a condescending “elitist” who would not be able to unite a country polarized by Trump’s presidency.

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White House New Hires to Boost Trump Impeachment Defense

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The White House is expected to recruit two advisers to take a more aggressive posture in defending President Donald Trump in the congressional impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The first public hearings are set for next week in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives. The White House has been conducting an internal review to determine the events surrounding Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskiy, the official said.

A second senior administration official said the review of the events, which led to a whistleblower complaint followed by House committees hearing testimony in October, was not an investigation but rather a “fact-finding mission.”

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, has provided some of the most damaging testimony to date. He said that Trump made the release of nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations demanded by Trump against former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Reuters adds.

The two outside advisers are former Florida state attorney general Pam Bondi, a Trump ally, and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh, who had resigned earlier this year after joining the administration from its early days.

“Pam Bondi and Tony Sayegh are expected to join the White House communications team to work on proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise,” the first administration official said.

Trump had voiced opposition to bringing in aides, believing he did nothing wrong and that to bring in new advisers would make him look weak, a source familiar with the situation said.

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