Another meeting of the Japanese Investors Club was held on October 1, 2012. The event, which was organized in cooperation with the Japanese Embassy in France, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Paris and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in France (CCIJF), took place at the headquarters of the Invest in France Agency (IFA).
France is the second leading recipient of Japanese investment in Europe. In his opening speech, IFA Chairman David Appia reminded attendees that Japanese businesses are particularly welcome in France because they take a long-term view and are keen to integrate into their host country and to keep pace with the times. France, for its part, is ready to listen to investors and has introduced various measures to meet their expectations as effectively as possible.
His Excellency Mr. Ichiro Komatsu, the Japanese Ambassador to France, recognized France’s efforts to reduce the time taken to obtain residence permits and visas. He thanked the IFA and all French bodies for their work in this area. President François Hollande, in his speech at the Ambassadors Conference on August 27, 2012, reminded his audience that Japan was very important to France, and said that he was keen to revive the partnership between the two nations. There is no shortage of Japanese companies that have succeeded in France; one example is Toray, which laid the foundation stone of its new plant in Aquitaine on June 29 in the presence of David Appia and France’s Industry Minister Mr. Arnaud Montebourg. His Excellency Mr. Ichiro Komatsu recognized that the two countries complement each other both technologically and geographically. Japanese investment in France helps strengthen strategic partnerships as well as making both countries more competitive. JETRO Paris added that in France, Japanese investors also benefit from efficient infrastructure and financial help in establishing themselves.
At the first round table discussion of the seminar, the panel members discussed issues relating to international mobility for Japanese managers and skilled employees. Mr. Hitoshi Endo, Chairman of CCIJF’s Corporate Environment Committee, began by presenting the findings of a survey he had undertaken among CCJIF partners regarding investment in France. The survey’s results confirmed that the most important issue for respondents was obtaining visas for employees and their families. In this regard, the creation of a ‘one-stop service’ by the French Immigration and Citizenship Office (OFII) has been particularly warmly welcomed. Following a circular dated August 3, 2012, one-stop services are now operating in the following eight départements: Paris, Hauts-de-Seine, Yvelines, Rhône, Haute-Garonne, Isère, Nord and Puy-de-Dôme. Employees and their families need only visit the OFII once, to complete a medical examination and collect their residence permits. The new system has cut waiting times for residence permits to no more than six weeks. A website has also been set up to provide information on economic immigration matters to foreign employees and executives: www.immigration-professionnelle.gouv.fr.
Mr. Augustin Nicolle of law firm BCTG et Associés also gave an overview of the Franco-Japanese bilateral social security agreement. Employers need to complete form JF6 to ensure that their employees in France continue to have access to social security in Japan.
There followed a lively debate during which all the panel members sought to find solutions to improve procedures. For example, Mr. Pascal Gay, Secretary-General of Pilot, proposed that the OFII introduced “ambassadors” to facilitate communication between the French authorities and Japanese expatriates.
The second round table looked at the issue of collective bargaining in France, which is a matter of concern for many investors. Mr. Nicolas Lepetit and Ms. Sawako Furusho of law firm Bersay et Associés emphasized that, while it can appear rather technical and complex, France’s system of employee representation is, in fact, extremely useful. Rather than seeing them as opponents, employers should see employee representatives as their allies. This fosters dialog between management and the workforce and enables employees and employers to communicate more flexibly. Employee representatives have a duty to consult those they represent, but employers are under no obligation to follow their recommendations (unlike in Germany, where employee representatives and management must reach agreement). Collective bargaining enables employers to depart from strict legal requirements, thus making for greater flexibility. Furthermore, contrary to popular misconception, trade union membership is very low in France.
Ms. Valérie Delahaye-Guillocheau, head of department at the DGT (the French government’s Employment Directorate), also countered some preconceptions about French employees, pointing out that hourly productivity in France is higher than the European average. She also explained that arrangements for terminating employment contracts have evolved to meet the needs of both employers and employees. For example, termination of permanent contracts by mutual agreement is a simple scheme under which the authorities’ only involvement is to carry out a simple check prior to approving the termination.
Mr. Yojiro Okuno from Japanese company Nichirei illustrated Ms. Delahaye-Guillocheau’s comments. In 2010, Nichirei acquired French company Godfroy. Nichirei had always been interested in the French market, but felt it would be difficult to establish themselves there on their own. They therefore decided to buy a French company. They had to convince their head office using hard data and demonstrate that employee dialog was a positive factor. They chose Godfroy because the two companies shared a similar culture and similar working methods. The existing management team was retained, and Japanese personnel attend Works Council meetings to discuss issues with French employees. However, a few changes needed to be made to the company’s management. Mr. Okuno was happy to report that the Council “worked hand in hand with us so we could make all these changes together”. Mr. Lionel Godfroy was also just as enthusiastic, saying “It’s been a great adventure! I formed this company 30 or so years ago, and the baton has now been well and truly passed on. We are now an international group with an international customer base”.
At the end of the seminar, Ms Satoka Tonegawa from the IFA’s Japan Desk gave an overview of the IFA‘s role and a comprehensive update on Japanese investment in France. Japanese businesses are very active in France, with 42 Japanese companies headquartered in the country, mainly operating in the electronics and automotive sectors. Japan is France’s sixth-largest source of inward investment and is ranked ninth in terms of the number of jobs created in the country. “I hope investment will make the relationship between our two countries even stronger”: a happy conclusion that suggests the future is bright for Franco-Japanese partnerships.