Japan's travel ban has hit 85% of European businesses there: trade lobby

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s travel ban aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus has hit most European firms in the country and could prompt them to rethink their future in the world’s third-largest economy, a European business lobby said on Wednesday.

Many countries have imposed travel curbs amid the pandemic, but Japan’s are among the strictest, effectively banning entry to tourists and visa holders coming from 129 countries.

Even permanent residents are not allowed in unless they are granted an exception on humanitarian grounds. In the United States and Europe, in contrast, non-citizen residents are allowed to return.

A recent survey by the European Business Council of 376 members in Japan showed that 85% had been negatively impacted by the ban, with 44% reporting financial losses. The EBC said the travel restrictions run counter to international treaties.

“This situation may also trigger some investment disputes against Japan,” EBC president Michael Mroczek told reporters.

The way the ban was handled creates an air of unpredictability that may cause CEOs to “rethink their policy regarding Japan,” he said.

Japan allows its citizens to return to the country if they take a coronavirus test at the port of entry and observe a period of self-quarantine.

Foreigners living in Japan face much higher hurdles for re-entry, such as demonstrating the need to visit dying relatives or be reunited with family in the country.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tweeted on Wednesday that Japan would gradually begin allowing foreign residents with re-entry permits to re-enter the country. Kyodo news said the measure would apply to foreign students and employees of foreign companies.

It was not immediately clear whether the relaxed rules would apply to foreign workers at Japanese companies or to permanent residence holders. Foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

The EBC’s remarks echoed those of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), which has decried the country’s “double standard” in reentry requirements.

Restrictions to contain the spread of the virus have already helped tip Japan’s economy into its first recession in 4-1/2 years, as the country tries to stave off a second wave of infections which has brought total cases there to more than 25,000.

Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Hugh Lawson