Why it's vital the North is big in Japan

A delegation from the North-East travels to Japan on Monday in a trip it hopes will cement closer ties with the region's biggest source of foreign investment.

A delegation from the North-East travels to Japan on Monday in a trip it hopes will cement closer ties with the region's biggest source of foreign investment.

There are 50 Japanese investors in the North-East - including Wearside car plant Nissan - which employ 10,000 people and turn over more than £2.7bn.

The trip involves a three-day conference with academics from Northumbria and Kyoto universities discussing disaster management. It is hoped it will strengthen growing links between Newcastle and the Japanese city - famed as the venue for the 1997 international agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

A memorandum of understanding between the two universities will be signed during the visit.

Newcastle Council leader John Shipley, who will make the trip, said: "We're very keen to develop relationships with Japan. We're very keen to see greater communication between the academic departments of universities and between Government structures in the region and in Japan.

"It's very competitive in the European Union, particularly because of the accession countries. We need to make sure we're the first place people think of when they're thinking of investing in the EU."

He also wants to see more Japanese students coming to study at North-East universities.

A reception involving 50 Japanese businessmen and academics will be staged in the city of Osaka during the week-long trip.

Northumbria University vice-chancellor Kel Fidler said: "We are looking forward to signing a memorandum of understanding with Kyoto University and believe both countries will benefit enormously from this event which bring together academic experts and policy makers to build preparedness and robustness against some of the biggest potential disasters facing our world."

The North's links with Japan date back to the 19th century, when Lord Armstrong entertained members of the Japanese royal family at his Cragside estate, near Rothbury.

Also involved in the trip will be members of Tyne and Wear and Northumberland fire services.

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