The U.S. trade imbalance with Japan parallels a language imbalance which hinders U.S. companies sell their products and services there, Andrew Horvat, former Tokyo Bureau chief of American Public Radio, said last week at a World Trade Center luncheon co-sponsored by the Japan America Society of the Southeast and JETRO Atlanta.
U.S. negotiators say that sectors such as manufacturing, engineering, distribution and the automobile industry are closed to U.S. industry, according to Mr. Horvat.
But he countered that non-American companies and manufacturers are able to penetrate these sectors “because they understand that foreign language skills are essential to the services they provide.”
These industries also are controlled by local dealerships which are family-owned, requiring even more personalized contact to complete business transactions, he added.
According to Mr. Horvat, Canada and the European Union understand the importance of language training as an extension of economic policy better than the U.S. Their executive training programs in language learning often are subsidized, and their companies are encouraged to enroll their employees in language learning classes through tax incentives.
Mr. Horvat, who currently is with the National Foreign Language Center of the Johns Hopkins University and is proficient in English, Japanese and has some fluency in Hungarian and other languages, said that 50 times as many Japanese study in U.S. than vice versa, or 40,000 Japanese here versus 900 U.S. students in Japan.
“These Japanese students will not only be competent in English but also come home with a collection of calling cards to help them access this society,” he said, while comparatively few Americans will return from Japan with the contacts that will assist them in doing business there.
Mr. Horvat may be at (202) 667-8100, ext. 33, or firstname.lastname@example.org