TOKYO, Japan – The five Central American nations plus Panama joined forces here last week in presenting themselves to Japanese business executives as an ideal destination for investment and tourism.Attending the high-level event to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between nations of the isthmus and Tokyo were the presidents of Costa Rica, Abel Pacheco; Guatemala, Oscar Berger; and Honduras, Ricardo Maduro, along with Vice-Presidents Ana Vilma de Escobar of El Salvador, José Rizo of Nicaragua and Samuel Lewis Navarro of Panama.Among those on hand representing the host country were executives from the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), leaders of the travel industry and delegates from other public and private institutions.THE session began with the announcement of a $100 million loan to Central America from the JBIC to be used for projects reducing emissions of greenhouse gases associated with global warming.The bank’s governor, Kyozuke Shinozawa, signed the documents authorizing the loan, which is being financed jointly by three Japanese banks and Spanish giant BBVAand will be channeled through the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.Part of Tokyo’s motivation for extending the loan is helping Japan meet its targets for emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol. That accord allows countries to offset their own emissions by aiding pollution- control efforts elsewhere.Nicaragua’s Vice-President Rizo predicted next year’s implementation of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) will further enhance the attractiveness of Central America for Japanese firms seeking a foothold in the Western Hemisphere.“THIS instrument presents opportunities for incentives in trade and investment in the Central American countries, especially for Japan,” said Rizo, whose own county has yet to ratify the trade accord (NT, Aug. 12).His Salvadoran counterpart, Ana Vilma de Escobar, also stressed that CAFTA will make Central America a “platform for exporting to the biggest market in the world,” while contributing to political stability in the region.“The best social policy is to generate employment, and that’s what we’re here for. We are looking for partners in our own development,” she said, adding that CAFTA will bring good investment opportunities in the automotive and electronic sectors as well as in public works construction.Honduran President Ricardo Maduro touted progress made by his nation and its neighbors in bringing budget deficits under control, saying this development had created a “much more favorable business environment.” COSTA Rican President Abel Pacheco painted an idyllic – if somewhat sanitized – picture of the current situation in Central America.He said that both corruption and political violence are “part of the past,” given that “for the first time,” all of the nations in the isthmus have democratic governments. He also sang the praises of landscapes and cultural attractions the region offers tourists, saying that Japanese who visit his country or settle there as retirees can expect “a life full of flavor and color.”HOWEVER, some of the Japanese travel industry executives were not convinced.Speaking for an association of travel agents, Kentaro Kaneko laid out a long list of conditions that Central America will have to meet if it wants to become a preferred destination for tourists from the Asian nation.He said Central American countries need to establish a tourism office in Tokyo to boost their chances of drawing visitors from among Japan’s large and expanding pool of retirees, who are the nation’s most avid travelers.Kaneko said that of the 16.8 million Japanese who traveled abroad last year, only about 24,000 went to Central America – most of them on business.FOLLOWING the gathering with bankers and tourism industry leaders, the Central Americans – joined by Dominican Vice-President Rafael Francisco Alburquerque de Castro – met briefly with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.The heads of government signed a joint declaration emphasizing the importance of Central America to Japan and announcing a trade fair featuring products from the region to be held here in November.On the political front, the visitors offered their support for Tokyo’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, though not for the initiative by the so-called G4 – Japan, Germany, Brazil and India – to jointly acquire spots on the council.Japan is the largest donor of development aid to Central America and the No. 2 user of the Panama Canal.