The Japanese market is one that carries high potential for Vietnamese firms, but it is also a challenging one, speakers said at a conference held on Sept. 15 in HCM City.

Akira Kojima, director of KeyPlus, a HCM City-based investment promotion and trade representative firm, said that with a population of 120 million, most of them affluent, Japan presents a very large and attractive consumption market for Vietnamese exporters.

Furthermore, the Vietnam-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement that became effective in October 2009, has opened the door for many kinds of Vietnamese goods to enter the Japanese market, he said.

The current appreciation of Japanese yen and depreciation of Vietnamese dong have made Vietnamese goods cheaper in the Japanese market, and this was a particularly good time for Vietnamese firms to boost exports of their products to Japan, Kojima said.

In addition, with higher production costs in China, many Japanese companies have shifted their production base to Vietnam, he noted.

Ngo Trung Hieu, director of Keyplus, said "Japan has high demand for agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and these are Vietnam's strengths."

Local firms therefore should focus more on boosting the export of these items to Japan.

However, firms should invest in advanced processing facilities to add more value to their seafood and farm produce, he said.

Tu Minh Thien, director of the HCM City Investment and Trade Promotion Centre (ITPC), said besides seafood, other commodities including mechanical equipment, computer parts, handicraft, foodstuff, textile and garments, wood products and farm produce are also items that have high potential for export to the Japanese market.

However, with high requirements in quality, hygiene and food safety of the Japanese markets as well as fierce competition among exporters, local companies have faced a lot of challenges when entering the market, Thien said.

Vietnamese enterprises do not really understand the Japanese market, he said, adding that his agency will boost trade promotion activities to help the processed food and handicraft sectors enter the Japanese market.

For successful entrance to the Japanese market, it is very useful to understand the business culture, institutions and networks of Japanese enterprises, said Tadashi Kikuchi, economic attache of the Japanese Consulate General's office in HCM City.

"Vietnamese SMEs will have to learn certain aspects of Japanese businesses, such as punctuality in all business operations," he said.

Akira Kojima agreed, saying that Vietnamese firms should understand the market and business culture of Japan and relentlessly improve their products and service quality if they want to successfully penetrate the Japanese market.

In addition, Vietnamese firms have to conduct research on the Japanese market and customers' tastes to know how to pitch their products and services most effectively, he said.

They should also focus on quality and ensuring delivery time to win the trust of Japanese partners, he said.

Delegates at the conference advised that local firms strengthen promotion activities and take part in international trade fairs to market their products and seek more partnerships.

Organised by ITPC, more than 50 businesses participated in the conference that was titled "Japanese market: Export opportunity for Vietnamese companies." /.