“one of our core activities is to help build ever-closer cooperation between the EU and Japan”

An active EU stakeholder

Chris Jackson, president of the Japan Business Council in Europe, and president and CEO of NEC Europe


AUGUST 2021 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Tony McNicol

Based in Brussels, the Japan Business Council in Europe (JBCE) is a business organisation that promotes open trade and investment, and advocates for the interests of Japanese firms with operations in the EU. Last year, Chris Jackson, president and CEO of NEC Europe, became president of the JBCE. He is committed to strengthening partnerships between Japan and the EU.

Jackson is the first European to lead NEC Europe. Since joining the firm in 2008, he has held a number of European management posts, including vice president of the Telecommunications Carrier Business Unit.

Could you give some details about the JBCE?

It was founded in 1999 by a small number of Japanese electronic equipment companies. Since then, the JBCE has grown to 90 members from a wide range of sectors, including information and communication technology, chemicals, automotive, wholesale trade, and precision instruments. We represent companies that are committed to, and rooted in, Europe.

One of the main drivers of the JBCE’s establishment was the growing impact of EU policies and legislation on products manufactured in, or imported into, the EU. The JBCE’s original purpose was to closely monitor and analyse policies such as the EU’s environmental policy. Over the years, the JBCE has learned to engage with EU institutions to influence policy-making and help shape legal requirements.

Why do you believe the organisation is important?

The JBCE is the only business organisation in Europe representing companies of Japanese parentage across multiple sectors. Even though our focus is on Europe — and the promotion of a predictable and favourable business environment — one of our core activities is to help build ever-closer cooperation between the EU and Japan, at the levels of B2B, government to government (G2G), and B2G. We strive to enhance Europe’s understanding of JBCE member companies and their many contributions to the European economy and society in general.

Could you highlight a few of your committees and their recent advocacy efforts?

All of our committees do important work. But, in view of the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the EU’s current focus on digitalisation and sustainability, let me mention three JBCE committees: trade policy, digital innovation, as well as environment and energy.

The JBCE Trade Policy Committee made important contributions to the negotiations of the EPA, working directly with EU and Japanese authorities and cooperating with European business and industry organisations. The focus now is on EPA implementation and further cooperation, for example, in relation to the data economy and international data flows. Other work areas include export controls and multilateral negotiations related to the WTO.

The JBCE Digital Innovation Committee is currently working on a series of dossiers, which are key files on the EU digital policy agenda. This includes legislative proposals on AI, data governance, and cybersecurity. Such legislation will fundamentally shape the European economy and society at multiple levels, such as business models, innovation, competitiveness, and consumer expectations and rights. It will also have a big impact internationally as it applies, for example, to the flow, use, sharing, confidentiality, and protection of data.

Mirroring the EU’s sustainability and Green Deal agenda, the JBCE Environment & Energy Committee works on a series of policies related to climate change, circular economy, and chemical management. These include legislation on eco-design and energy labelling with a strong focus on energy efficiency. The committee is also involved in key circular economy legislation affecting JBCE members, such as a proposal for a revised battery regulation, covering portable, industrial, electric vehicle, and energy storage batteries.

Sustainability features strongly also in the JBCE CSR Committee. Major dossiers include sustainable finance, sustainable corporate governance, and corporate sustainability reporting.

What are a few ways member firms have benefitted from the EPA?

It has been more than two years since the EPA came into effect. Companies are already benefitting as implementation is progressing and actual benefits are expanding, especially concerning industrial and agricultural products. Approximately 80% of Japanese companies operating in the EU are either applying, or considering applying, the EPA for imports from Japan into the EU, as well as into the UK. And 36.6% of Japanese companies in the EU procure goods from Japan, up 5.2% in 2020.

The EU–Japan EPA is viewed as a facilitator of further cooperation beyond traditional trade. The implementation of the EPA has led to the establishment of several G2G committees, including on e-commerce, sustainable development, and regulatory cooperation, so we expect many more benefits. We are working towards common regulatory frameworks, which we consider particularly important.

“JBCE member companies … [contribute] to the European economy and society in general”

What do you see as the JBCE’s most important jobs over the coming years?

Digital transformation and sustainability are defining issues for the years to come. This applies to both the EU and Japan. In that sense, they are of specific relevance for the JBCE and its members. The JBCE needs to be ready to be an even more important and active EU stakeholder. We need to be able to explain in detail — and transparently — where we stand in view of the challenges that we as businesses must meet; where we can contribute; and where we have concerns and why.

With confidence and honesty, we need to describe what we think policies and legislation can achieve and how — or what they cannot achieve and why. And we always need to show our members’ commitment to Europe and the many different contributions they make.

At the same time, the JBCE must find the best way to explain to its members the context in which policies are created and evolve, and what the political and societal expectations are vis-à-vis business and industry. We must help our members consider EU policies and legislative requirements from the perspective of both risk and opportunity.

How has your firm, NEC, invested in Europe, and how is it working together with European businesses?

NEC has a proud history in Europe dating back to the 1950s. In the early years, NEC built a major semiconductor factory and also brought to the market several hardware devices, which made the firm a dominant force in the generation of mobile handsets and a pioneer in 3G mobile infrastructure.

More recently, particularly over the past three years, NEC has completed three major and 10 smaller acquisitions in Europe, investing more than €4 billion in the region. These acquisitions — notably Switzerland’s Avaloq, Denmark’s KMD, and the UK’s Northgate Public Services — strengthen NEC’s business in the digital finance and digital government sectors. Together with 5G, they form the major pillars of the firm’s growth strategy in Europe.

As Covid-19 accelerates the digital transformation, NEC continues to see Europe as a strategically important region. This as an excellent opportunity to work even more closely with European businesses, large and small, to develop innovative solutions that can benefit society as a whole.

How is NEC helping Europe to advance with its digital transformation?

The digital transformation of society, businesses, and industry is a fundamental part of NEC’s business globally. Many of the solutions we provide are based on NEC core technologies such as those relating to AI, IoT, 5G, and biometrics. Providing such solutions is one way in which NEC helps Europe advance.

NEC’s smart city solutions, for example, are a key part of our digital transformation business. In Spain, NEC provides the Cloud City Operation Centre solution, which collects both real-time and long-term data from all city sources, automates city processes, and allows for the swift provision of municipal services, which in turn reduces the workload at monitoring centres. In Portugal, NEC implemented the Lisbon Intelligent Management Platform, a FIWARE-based smart platform that aggregates, manages, and displays relevant data from the municipality’s information systems and other public and private institutions.

Also in Spain and Portugal, NEC offers the smart farming management solution CropScope, which digitalises agricultural operations using AI and data analytics. It also optimises the entire food and agriculture value chain.

Regarding digital healthcare, NEC OncoImmunity AS, a subsidiary of NEC in Norway, and Oslo University Hospital were awarded a prestigious grant from the Research Council of Norway to develop an artificial intelligence platform that will enable the rapid design of T-cell diagnostics for emerging or endemic infectious diseases. The project will develop a novel T-cell diagnostic for the Covid-19 pandemic to complement the current serological tests. Although the AI platform will be applied first to the current pandemic, it will be designed to be future-proof so that it can be applied to any emerging infectious agent that could threaten the global population. The Biomedical AI group of NEC Research Laboratories Europe in Germany has cooperated closely with NEC OncoImmunity AS, working on prophylactic vaccines that can maximally protect the global population from SARS-CoV-2 responsible for Covid-19.

More generally, NEC Research Labs has been an active player in EU-funded projects for more than 20 years and has participated in nearly 120 European projects. Its research has a strong focus on AI innovation, biomedical AI, and system platforms for IoT and AI. And its IoT platform has become a part of Europe’s Future Internet platform, FIWARE.

The NEC-owned firm KMD — Denmark’s largest IT company — provides a digital learning platform to connect primary schools with students, parents, teachers, and supervisors. Teachers can assemble, plan, and distribute, for example, annual plans, individual student plans, courses, weekly schedules, etc.

Finally, 5G technologies and infrastructure are driving digital transformation. With NEC’s various 5G products and solutions, we aim to co-create new value with telecom operators, enterprises, and governments and will help accelerate the digital transformation in Europe.

How has NEC benefitted from its membership in the JBCE?

Over the past 20 years, NEC has benefitted in many ways. We have participated in the work of several JBCE committees and have chaired some of them. Many of our questions and concerns have been addressed both internally and externally via JBCE’s outreach and advocacy work. I think members benefit most from the work of the JBCE when they are active and making a contribution.

NEC is a big multinational company, but it is nevertheless only one voice out of many. It really helps when we pool our resources, work together, and speak with one JBCE voice.