JFTC Essay Competition

Remarks by the Selection Committee Chair, Mr. Atsushi Nakajima

This year marked the 12th annual Japan Foreign Trade Council (JFTC) Essay Competition. We received 189 excellent essays, most of them from overseas. What was notable in this competition, in comparison with that of previous years, were the numerous essays received from overseas and the youthful composition of the majority of the applicants. There was a total of 170 applications from overseas countries, which is the largest ever. In addition, 109, almost 60% of the total, were written by young people in their teens and 20s, also mostly from overseas.

The topic for this year was “Searching for a New Initiative in Global Trade and the Role of Japanese Companies.” We expected discussion about a new form of trade and the role of Japanese companies—in a situation where the rate of world trade growth has been slowing down—which would not only enable further expansion of trade in services such as intellectual property and services as they continue to grow at a relatively high rate, but also bring about sustainable prosperity in the world.

In reference to this topic, there were many essays which pointed out the importance of trade in services and argued that Japanese companies should put more effort in improving intellectual property related capabilities as well as brand equity. In addition, it was interesting to see one of the essays argue that, in terms of brand equity, such typical Japanese symbols as Mt. Fuji and the shinkansen should be used to their full advantage. Furthermore, in terms of the response from Japanese companies, many essays characteristically pointed out the need for foreign language education and training for their employees, highlighting the challenges and possible directions for Japan where trade and global investment have not gone as far as that in other major developed countries.

In this essay competition, four essays were selected for a Prize for Excellence and one for the Selection Committee Chair Special Prize. It is uncommon to have such a large number of the former, highlighting the fact that there were many strong, high-quality essays. Unfortunately, there was no Grand Prize. While the results suggest that this topic made it difficult for the contestants to express different views, on the other hand, it made us cognizant of the degree of difficulty of trying to work out a new style of trade, in a situation where we are witnessing anti-globalization movements around the world, which can lead to a win-win situation not only for developed economies, but for emerging economies as well, by increasing the volume of trade and enabling them to gain tangible benefits.

In closing my address as the Selection Committee Chair, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the vice chairs, the Selection Committee, and the people of JFTC for their time in reviewing a large number of essays and providing constructive and fair evaluations. For the remarks on each prize-winning essay, please refer to the section below.

The Prize for Excellence
Mr. Xiaochen Su:
Spelling out Value Propositions to Foreign Markets: A Recipe for Japanese Firms to Move up the Value Chain in International trade

The author argues that in a situation where enterprises from emerging economies have improved their competitiveness, it is critically important for Japanese firms to remain competitive in the global market by successfully making their value propositions to overseas producers and consumers. For that to happen, it is crucial for them not only to maintain and improve their physical presence abroad, but also to provide products and services which are characterized by unique Japanese culture and a premium quality of life in a sustainable and proactive manner. The author, at the same time, strongly contends that the Japanese government and society at large should be involved in promoting these Japanese values in an effort to jointly expand the overseas markets.

The essay is supported by a large number of reference materials, which is a testimony to the author’s academic efforts. It was highly evaluated because the logical points of the argument are carefully constructed and persuasive; in addition, readability on the whole is good and the author put forward the discussion in a positive manner. Furthermore, the author’s idea that one of the factors contributing to the strength of Japanese firms’ value propositions lies in the Japanese lifestyle is unique. It would have been a perfect essay if the author could have provided a few more innovative propositions and suggestions.

The Prize for Excellence
Ms. Jiaqi Zhang:
Japan: Not lost but RESET

The author argues that as Japan is experiencing the advent of an aging society with a low birthrate at a pace higher than that of other countries, it is in a position to take advantage of its developed technologies and products in the course of dealing with this problem. On the basis of this, the author argues that it is crucial for Japan to reduce the impact of its aging workforce and find ways to reach out to foreign markets, whereby RESET is a framework made up of the following three strategies: (1) Redefine Education as a Service (RES), (2) Ecosystem Strategic Export (ESE), and (3) Self-Enabling Technology (SET). In conclusion, the author contends, “Let the next decade not be lost, but be a chance for resetting Japan’s path.”

This is a fine essay based on quality research on the current situation in Japan while presenting many ideas. In addition, the discussion is based on logical thinking and characterized by unique proposals such as message-like propositions epitomized by RESET and a stance that “encourages the implementation of self-enabling technology, which refers to technologies that help customers help themselves.” The essay would have been perfect if the concept of the essay encompassing the whole argument could have been slightly bolder.

The Prize for Excellence
Mr. Sok Heng Lay:
Japanese Companies towards Global Trades in Service Sector

The author argues that Japanese service trading is at a relatively low level compared to that of other major countries and that it is important for Japanese companies to adopt a sort of synergy that would improve service trade. Among other synergies, the author argues that the three synergies of (1) productivity, (2) brand equity, and (3) marketing are crucial to Japanese companies; and in terms of productivity, structural innovation and capable human capital, brand equity, branding of services, and marketing, maintaining a unique niche in the global markets is required. The author concludes that for such goals to be achieved, the commitment and motivation of individuals are crucial.

The essay is very readable because the discussion progresses stepwise, focusing on one particular area at a time; and the point the author is making (i.e., Japanese companies need to reform themselves) is understandable as a detailed description of the new direction to take is provided. If I were to add a few more words, I would say that it would have been much better if the author could have presented an image showing how we can integrate the three synergies.

The Prize for Excellence
Mr. Long Bao Vuong:

The author argues that the growth of global trading contributes to the growth of GDP, domestically and internationally, and then continues to point out that the current slowing down of global trade, in particular, the stagnating growth rate of the developed countries, is a problem. The author then argues that “resolving this problem requires multi-participation by governments, international institutions and organizations, and especially the business community in every country.” On the basis of this assertion, the author suggests that the three S’s of SELL, SELF, and SHARE are important for Japanese companies in improving the image of Japan and promoting global trade, where the three S’s stands for “SELL”/promote tourism in Japan and innovative technologies of Japanese companies taking advantage of Mt Fuji, the shinkansen, and other cultural assets to enhance the “SELF”-image of Japanese companies by practicing the virtues of bushido and by being environment-friendly, and “SHARE” the technological capabilities of Japanese companies with other nations.

The author discusses the development and virtues of Japan in a careful manner based on extensive research. We can also feel the author’s empathy toward Japan in this essay. In addition, the essay is interesting as well as unique in its proposition that we should take advantage of Japanese symbols such as Mt. Fuji and the shinkansen. However, the essay would have been much better if there were more quotations or references from other literature.

The Selection Committee Chair Special Prize
Mr. Baltazar Jr Sabado:
“SHOSHA-as-a-SERVICE”: The SHOSHA of Tomorrow’s business model for tomorrow’s business environment

The author argues that, while the shosha (trading companies) of yesterday used a commodities trading business model and that of today uses a solution trading business model, the shosha of tomorrow should use a “Shosha-as-a-Service (SHaaS)” business model. The author adds that the business model for the shosha of tomorrow is based on providing intellectual property related services and using its financial strength in the settlement of trading for fees. In doing so, three factors are required, namely, extensive market intelligence, cash to finance and pursue new business, and risk management capabilities.

This is an interesting argument because it presents a business model for trading companies from a unique point of view. It is a great pity that the discussion centers on trading companies and strays from the topic of this competition: “Searching for a New Initiative in Global Trade and the Role of Japanese Companies.” However, we decided to award the Selection Committee Chair Special Prize to this essay as a token of our appreciation of the author’s efforts to present a novel discussion on the trading company from a uniquely unconventional perspective.