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Poland: Japanese Minister's Visit Reveals Contrast In Business Cultures

By Chris Klimiuk and Breffni O'Rourke

Warsaw, 26 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Japan's Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda has just been visiting Warsaw on a trip which dealt more with economic issues, specifically Japanese investment in Poland, than with political themes.

In many ways, the talks which Ikeda held with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Marek Belka, and Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati, illustrate the differences between the business cultures of the two countries. On the one hand, Ikeda is the grey-suited representative of a capitalist power which has always prized thoroughness and stability, and which builds its markets with extreme care. The Japanese combination of astuteness and relentless determination has produced a dominant world economic power.

Poland, moribund for decades under centralised planning, has produced by contrast a vigorous breed of neo-capitalism characterised by its willingness to grasp opportunities as they arise, regardless of details. The new-look Poles have managed to create from nothing the region's star economy, but in doing so have contributed much to the legend of the "wild east," where money is to be made -- and lost.

The Polish hosts, not inclined to excessive modesty, called their country the key player of Eastern Europe, and urged Ikeda repeatedly to boost the present limping level of Tokyo's investment. But Ikeda's reaction was permeated with caution. A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy told RFE/RL yesterday that Ikeda's visit indeed opens the way for future Japanese investment in Poland. But the spokesman said this is a long process, which will require many joint meetings and seminars, and many visits by Japanese experts in the coming years.

The two sides are not even starting with a clear slate. According to the correspondent in Warsaw for Japan's Kyodo news agency, the Japanese well remember the fact that a decade ago a communist minister cancelled a deal between the Daihatsu company and the Polish car-maker FSO, in favour if the Italian car-maker FIAT. In addition, they recall that Warsaw defaulted on its foreign debt repayments in the early 1990s, although it did later resume its debt servicing.

And on the present visit, Ikeda complained of the Polish import taxes facing Japanese-made cars. He noted in his talks with Rosati that applying two different import tariffs -- lower for cars made in the European Union countries and higher for Japanese and other autos -- amounts to "blatant discrimination." Ikeda complained that these practices are inconsistent with the rules adopted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Undeterred, the Poles repeatedly pressed for higher Japanese investment. A Rosati spokesman, Boguslaw Majewski, said his minister had expressed to Ikeda his dismay at the slow pace of Japanese investment, and even the almost total lack of activity involving large Japanese investors in Poland.

Rosati further noted that the largest world investors are already in Poland and in view of its expected future membership in the European Union, Poland should be considered a very attractive market for Japan. He pointed out that by entering the Polish market Tokyo will be getting a foothold in the enlarged area of the EU. Majewski said Ikeda agreed with that opinion. Majewski also said the visit opened a new chapter in bilateral relations, and he expressed confidence more such visits will follow.

Finance Minister Belka, for his part, spoke of Poland's search for what he called a quality investor. Belka spokeswoman Agnieszka Martyjek said that with the Japanese, Poland would gain a new set of managerial techniques, and the culture of managing represented by the Japanese. She said it is not so much the investment capital that Poland is looking for, but the Japanese know how, and technologies for the 21st century.

The biggest Japanese investment in Poland to date is the Isuzu engine plant being built at Tychy in Upper Silesia. Many of the engines will be sold to the nearby car plant, now also under construction, of the U.S. General Motors Corp. But even the Tychy investment is not entirely Japanese-motivated, since GM is an important shareholder in Isuzu itself.