Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Robots? What could possibly go wrong...

Big chance for NZ in Japanese expo

Kiwi businesses offering innovative, top-end products should be looking to springboard into Japan as New Zealand gears up for the Aichi world expo in March, former ambassador to Japan Phillip Gibson says.

Mr Gibson, who is commissioner-general at the New Zealand pavilion, said there were already plans to explore opportunities in areas such as biotechnology as part of a concerted effort to capitalise on New Zealand's $10 million investment in the expo in Aichi, Japan. Twenty-five per cent of the world's research and development is carried out in Japan and it has an acknowledged interest in biotechnology.

Talks for research collaboration in the Kansai region, which has an economy the same size as Canada, are already underway particularly in areas of greenhouse gases and nanotechnology.
Work would also be done to identify the next generation of New Zealand exporters to Japan which could include service industries, fashion and software development, already gaining a foothold.

"What's important now is that the economic news coming out of Japan over the last year to 18 months is that it's on the move again. It's not going to grow at the rate it did in the 1970s and 80s... but does now seem to have entered a sustained period of economic growth."

Japan is New Zealand's third biggest export market and in the year to October 2004, exports to Japan rose almost 8 per cent to $3.4 billion. In turn, we imported $3.8 billion worth of goods, an increase of 3.5 per cent. Japan is our single biggest market for aluminium, vegetables, cheese and kiwifruit and the second-largest market for forest and fisheries products and petroleum.

"Japan is not just a big market for us but a very profitable market for us... It tends to be a premium market and people will pay high prices for quality products and I think where there is particular potential for New Zealand is increasingly in value added products," Mr Gibson said.
The Aichi Expo starts on March 25 and runs for 185 days, until September 25. There are 130 countries exhibiting. Up to 20 million people are expected to visit the expo, which has a theme of "Nature's Wisdom".

The project has been 10 years in the planning and developing the 160 hectare site has cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

A new hybrid mobile phone and personal computer communications system - the Ai-Mate - has been commissioned for the expo. One version has been designed for use by overseas visitors to help them better understand the exhibition.

Newly developed robots will also be on hand, cleaning, patrolling the ground, guiding visitors and entertaining children.

New Zealand's pavilion has been designed by Wellington company Story! Inc. At its centre will be a 1.8 tonne pounamu (greenstone) boulder from the Waitaiki creek on the West Coast. It will also have a 12-metre curved screen showing a six-minute bird's eye film flying across New Zealand. There will also be smaller interactive screens.

"We are presenting the traditional views of New Zealand, the themes, the beauty and all of those magnificent things which make us what we are. But we do it in such a way that it also conveys we are smart and innovative," Mr Gibson said.

Dairy giant Fonterra, ANZCO Foods, Air New Zealand, kiwi fruit company Zespri and Toyota New Zealand are helping to sponsor the pavilion which is being project-managed by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

On New Zealand Day, June 3, it is hoped that singer Hayley Westenra will perform at the pavilion along with dance group Black Grace, the New Zealand String Quartet and singer Hinewehi Mohi.


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