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Making A Difference

Helping Japan Build a Strong Economic Future

Naoko Munakata (MBA 1990)

As a trade negotiator, economic official, and scholar, Naoko Munakata (MBA 1990) has been immersed in Japan’s economic revitalization effort for the last 25 years. In 2013, as director-general for trade policy in Japan, she helped to pave the way for her nation’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the United States, Singapore, Australia, Chile, and seven other countries.

“Strong political sensitivities over comprehensive tariff elimination—a TPP negotiating principle—made Japan’s participation extremely divisive,” notes Munakata. She credits Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s political leadership and negotiation skills with enabling Japan to join talks that could lead to one of the world’s largest trade deals.

In addition to filling a succession of high-level posts in Japanese trade and economic policy, Munakata has been a visiting scholar at George Washington University; a senior fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade, and Industry; and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. She has written and lectured on Japan’s Asia policy and Asian economic integration. Her 2006 book, Transforming East Asia, analyzes the evolution of regional economies since the 1980s, a time when Asian nations began integrating among themselves through trade and investment.

In her current role as director-general of Japan’s Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau, Munakata’s portfolio includes development assistance, trade insurance, and export control.

“My ambition at HBS was always to work on enhancing my country’s economic openness and vitality,” she says. “It’s been fascinating to work in this field during an era of historic change in many of Asia’s regional economies. I love the sense of achievement that has come with each of my assignments.”

(Published September 2015)