Japan Inc reconciles to obstacle course with India investments

Written by Subhomoy Bhattacharjee | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 29 2013, 13:44pm hrs
Coal import
Tata NYK Shipping Pte Ltd ferries coal from the Indonesian and Australian mines for the coast-based power plants in India. On the return leg the bulk carriers travel to China with iron ore from India.

Yet like other Japanese business, the company too is gasping at the rapid pace at which Indian policy lag jam has choked off imports of coal and export of iron ore.

The companys throughput which had risen 37 per cent in 2012 calendar year has dropped to 4.6 per cent this year and is expected to barely improve to 9.5 per cent in the next calendar year.

The drop is part of the larger India story which all Japanese companies are coming to reconcile themselves with. Our plan still remains to ferry coal to India and on the return leg carry iron ore from there to China. It is not happening, said Fujimoto Kazuyoshi, manager of the Asia Group of NYK Container Line, whose subsidiary is the joint-venture with Tatas.

The coal is meant to fire the power plants as part of the ring of eight ultra mega power projects planned to be set up by 2016. Only two of these are operational and of them only one, the Tata plant at Mundra require the imported coal.

Seven & I Holdings is the largest retail chain in Japan and ranks just behind Walmart globally with sales of over $90 billion. The company with its iconic 7-Eleven format stores pockmark the entire island nation, but despite being present in 16 countries, it has no plans to enter India.

Minoru Matsumoto, senior officer at the Public Relations Center of the company said they have no plans to tap the Indian market despite the opening up of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail by India.

Food products account for two-third of its sales at the 7-Eleven convenience stores, but that requires huge build up of a logistics chain straddling several states, still clearly impossible in the current political climate. We aim to be the largest wherever we go, said Matsumoto.

Among all Asian nations where Japanese companies do business, the largest percentage of loss making enterprises are in India. A survey by the ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) of Japan shows 38.5 per cent of Japanese companies make losses in India. It is more than double the average for Japanese companies in Asean region at 17.6 per cent.

So long as India was growing fast, the companies expected these losses to be made good soon. Mikio Aoki, Director for trade policy at the Trade Policy Bureau of the ministry said this is not happening any more. The trend of FDI from Japan to India is decreasing, whereas FDI to Asean is increasing, he said.

Aoki points to the usual concerns like the complicated tax systems that deter especially smaller Japanese companies from tapping the Indian markets. But rising labour costs and aggressive face-off like those at Maruti-Suzuki and Honda factories are a fresh source of concerns.

The two major reasons why Japanese companies want to be in India are to replicate the success of Maruti-Suzuki and pick up the investment wake from the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).

At a recent India-Japan business seminar in Tokyo organised by Keizai Koho Center an industry research body, the labour troubles at Marutis Manesar plant dominated the concerns among the companies. The procedural delays among state governments holding up DMIC followed next.

Still 65 per cent of Japanese companies rank India as a better investment choice than China or Indonesia. That includes the lure of the fast rising middle class in South Asia. But that long-term optimism is at the present overshadowed by the short-term growth concerns.