Brisbane lawyers eye up Japanese resurgence

Two decades after investors were burned by an overheated Queensland property market, experts believe the Japanese are poised to spearhead a new wave of investment

Mills Oakley senior associate Levi Smouha believes many opportunities lie ahead for lawyers in the Sunshine State market, and predicts a new wave of Japanese investment is set to hit shore.

Smouha was one of two lawyers who recently participated in a trade delegation to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka under the auspices of the Queensland Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He says the delegation attracted a great deal of interest from investors looking for growth opportunities outside of Japan.

“This year has been a milestone year for Japanese investment with the signing of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA). Japanese business is looking to Australia for opportunities to grow.”

Smouha went on the week-long mission with the Queensland Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry alongside Anthony Shorten MP, and Anthony Lin from Goodman Lawyers.

He says he was particularly impressed by the two smaller cities.

“I was really surprised by the vibrancy of Osaka and Kyoto, and they’re really looking to try and attract international business,” he told Australasian Lawyer.

“I was [also] pleased to see the improved enthusiasm in the Japanese market place because it had been a story of depressed growth for many years, and now with the latest government’s reforms it seems to have had a short term effect on boosting business confidence.”

But due to Japan’s shrinking population that is ageing more quickly than other developed economy, there are still issues with domestic growth there, and it’s forcing companies to globalise.

Smouha says a mixture of these three factors – the JAEPA agreement, greater market enthusiasm and the need to globalise – is driving Japanese investors to Queensland.

 One example of the resurgent Japanese activity is property developer Sekisui House, which was largely absent from the Australian market following the 1990s crash. Sekisui has recently overseen several major residential developments in Sydney and Brisbane.

Other Japanese developers stepping up the pace in Australia include Daisho Group and Daiwa House.

On the retail side, Smouha says Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo are moving in.

“They’ve just set up a store in Melbourne and have a flagship store in Sydney opening very shortly. They’re going to be coming to Australia looking to expand more,” he says. “It will be good for consumers, but it will mean increased competition in what’s an already pretty tight retail market here.”

Queensland in particular is proving attractive for Japanese investors because the country has an existing history in the region: In fact, the State was the first to do business with the Japanese in the late 19th century.
Resources, tourism, agriculture and education are other sectors which have enjoyed steady Japanese trade and investment.

“I think Queensland has always had a special place for them. It’s a destination that’s easily accessible from Japan, they’ve already got familiarity with Queensland and see it as a stable long-term property market…Because they’ve been here previously, they’re ready to come back in,” says Smouha.

“I hope we’ll see not only our firm getting more clients here, but also have an impact on our clients in the work they’re getting…It should open the flow of financial services.”

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