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Long-term business opportunities arise

While Japan and California have long enjoyed a strong business ties, new investment prospects have emerged, particularly in the areas of agriculture infrastructure.

State entities like the Almond Board of California and California Walnut Commission have identified Japan as one of their biggest markets, while the California High Speed Rail Authority is looking to work closely with the Japanese government because of its expertise in the development of the shinkansen or bullet train.

The Almond Board of California, reorganized in its present form in the 1970s, was set up to work closely with industry members to improve research, food safety, nutrition and global market development. The board allots a significant portion of its budget for global marketing, which emphasizes the health benefits of almonds.

California Walnut Commission International Marketing Director Pamela Graviet

“A lot of our nutrition research became ubiquitous around the world. Tree nuts and almonds became well known as a healthy snack alternative, so we enjoyed growth everywhere,” Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott said.

With changing consumer habits, healthier lifestyles and a higher acceptance of imported food, Japan has become one of the fastest-growing markets for California-grown almonds. The board also works with the Japan Nut Association to conduct extensive consumer research and education and reactivate trade programs.

Meanwhile, California accounts for 99% walnut production in the United States and 65% of global production. Similar to the almond industry, walnuts have also seen a steady rise in worldwide consumption, driven mostly by consumers aware of the nutritional value and health benefits.

“People are more mobile and they want healthier food options. Nuts are a healthier alternative and a mobile society, along with healthy options, makes it challenging for several products,” said California Walnut Commission Senior International Marketing Director Pamela Gravier.

Japan is among the top importers of Californian walnuts, which have gained widespread acceptance in a market known for being particular about quality and food safety. While Japanese consumers traditionally use walnuts for baked goods, the commission is focusing on educating them about the walnut’s versatility. 

“Japan is a consistently strong market for Californian walnuts because of its quality, consistency, reliability and food safety, all of which are very important to the Japanese consumer,” Gravier also said.

California High Speed Rail Authority Chief of Communications and Spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley

And for an ambitious infrastructure project that will change the face of travel in the United States, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has naturally sought the advice of the Japanese, which were the first to develop a commercially successful high-speed train.

The goal is to connect the entire state of California and make travel fast and easy. The project is seen to connect far-flung towns with big cities, generate jobs and develop those small economies. The system will operate fully on renewable energy, with any excess put back to the state’s energy grid. It will also bring fiber optic networks to areas still without any Internet.

As a pioneer in the area and the first to begin construction, CHSRA has faced a lot of scrutiny and has met several challenges.

“It’s not just about the train. There are other benefits, like creating thousands of jobs along the way, opening small towns, as well as other peripheral benefits,” said CHSRA Chief of Communications and Spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley.

CHSRA’s priority is to advance construction of the rail network and secure early train operators and train set manufacturers. Aside from transport and logistical considerations, CHSRA also aims to make each train station a profitable enterprise for the state.

“People still do not see the benefits the way we do. So, our number one job is to talk about all these benefits and educate the people. The more people we talk to, the better,” Alley said.

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Northwest USA 2017 was prepared for and originally printed in The Japan Times Newspaper.

PDF of the printed report

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