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Chris Bieri, Forum Communications, Published July 31 2012

A yen for North Dakota investment

GRAND FORKS – Japan could become even more heavily involved in North Dakota’s economic interests, Japan’s ambassador to the United States said Tuesday during a visit here.

Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki said there is the potential for greater agricultural exports from the state as well as Japanese investment in North Dakota’s energy sector.

“I think so,” Fujisaki said at a symposium at the University of North Dakota. “This economy is really booming. Unemployment is under 3 percent and the huge Bakken reserve. Japanese companies have not come in yet. (I hope) they will find it more attractive. There are a lot of opportunities.”

North Dakota is already a major exporter of soybeans to Japan, and also counts wheat, self-propelled dozers and mustard as key trade items.

From 2000 to 2011, the state’s annual exports to Japan have gone from

$15.1 million to $31.3 million.

With concerns about mad cow disease waning, Japan is considering loosening restrictions on beef imports, opening its markets to more U.S. exports.

Fujisaki touted Japan’s foreign investments, saying Japan leads the world with $3.1 trillion in net external assets.

Mayor Mike Brown said a Grand Forks delegation of city and university officials will join students on a trip to Japan later this year for more in-person discussions.

“North Dakota is a tremendous opportunity for a wise investment,” he said. “We’re encouraging the relationship to grow. It’s still person to person. There’s nothing like a handshake or a bow to honor the people we’re dealing with.”

That relationship goes back at least 20 years, when Grand Forks and Awano, Japan, began exchanging public school students.

Awano was Grand Forks’ sister city from 1998 to 2006, when Awano was annexed by its neighbor Kanuma. The student exchange continues, and relations remain warm.

A group of Tokai University students were in attendance during Fujisaki’s talk. Since 2006, a group of about 40 students from the Tokyo school have studied at UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences each year, according to Brown.

Fujisaki’s day in Grand Forks ended Tuesday with a reception at the Japanese Gardens in Sertoma Park, a gift from Awano during the sister city period.

Earlier Tuesday, Fujisaki met with Gov. Jack Dalrymple in Bismarck to discuss the possible expansion of trade and increased cultural opportunities between North Dakota and Japan.

Fujisaki also praised the United States for its support in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Fukushima in March 2011.

“We are so lucky to have Americans as partners,” he said. “We will never forget that.”

Chris Bieri writes for the Grand Forks Herald.

Forum Communications’ Teri Finneman contributed to this report.

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