Japan a protectionist land? Consultant Ohmae scoffs

When Kenichi Ohmae wants to make a point, he hits the tabletop with gentle little karate chops, then slides his palm across the surface. He does this a lot when talking about Japan as a protectionist country. According to Mr. Ohmae, ``Many, though not all, of the obstacles to success in Japan are perceived rather than real.''

Based in Tokyo as managing director of McKinsey & Co., Ohmae comes at the issue of the $34 billion US trade deficit with Japan from a different perspective.

``The trade numbers are misleading,'' he says, for three reasons: First, on a per capita basis, Americans and Japanese now spend the same amount each year consuming each other's products. Because there are twice as many people in the United States, a deficit naturally results. Should Japan be blamed for a population difference? he wonders.

Second, the trade statistics don't take into account American investment in Japan, which Ohmae says is growing steadily. ``Most blue-chip American and European companies are doing extremely well in Japan, either on their own, like Nestl'e and IBM, or with a Japanese partner, like Philips, General Foods, or Xerox.''

Third, the United States isn't really losing cash to exports (although it may be losing jobs), because that cash comes back to this country in the form of foreign investments here.

Japanese consumers love American products, he says, but American businesses are ``listening to the voices of a few politicians'' as well as bad press reports and being turned off. ``Executives are reading too much about this hostile [investment environment]. They haven't really tried. They haven't really gone out and gotten to know other companies [overseas] very well.''

While Ohmae has the Tokyo perspective, keep this in mind, too. He also has the consulting perspective, and part of his job is to match American and Japanese firms.

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