The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) was established by MITI in 1958 to consolidate Japan's efforts in export promotion. The government has provided more than half of JETRO's annual operating budget. As of 1989, JETRO maintained seventy-eight offices in fifty-seven countries, as well as thirty offices in Japan, with a total staff of 1,200. Initially, JETRO's activities focused mainly on promoting exports to other countries. As exporters established themselves in world markets and the balance of trade turned from deficit to surplus, however, JETRO's role shifted to encompass more varied activities. These have included the furtherance of mutual understanding with trading partners, import promotion, liaison between small businesses in Japan and their overseas counterparts, and data dissemination. Import promotion services have included publications, promotion of trade fairs, seminars, and trade missions.JETRO has attracted attention because of the larger focus given to economic intelligence, and the fact that JETROís activities are mostly focused on Japanís nominal allies in the US and Western Europe. During the early 20th century and in the prewar and wartime periods, it is well documented that Japanese trading companies were valuable sources of information to government agencies. Nor can it be said that such relationships no longer exist.
JETRO is one of the best examples of a true Japanese commercial intelligence organization. JETRO, aware of scrutiny from the FBI as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, is almost certainly complying with American law. It is engaged in the collection of business intelligence, the collection of business and competitive information through legal and ethical methods. As much as 80% to 90% of this information may be obtained through open sources, such as newspaper articles, trade journals, Security & Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, specialized databases and trade show material. JETRO makes that information available to a range of Japanese trading companies, big manufacturers and smaller companies, who then attempt to license it or form relationships of some sort.As of 1994 JETRO had 84 domestic offices composed of 33 trade information centers and 51 economic internationalization centers in Japan. Internationally, JETRO had 48 overseas offices and operates 28 specialized JETRO Centers. JETRO had a total staff of approximately 1200 people which was equally divided between the Japan domestic (600 Japanese staff members) and overseas offices (300 Japanese and 300 local country staff members). By 1997 JETRO's US operations -- with an annual budget of at least $30 million and 160 employees -- were the linchpin of a pervasive information-gathering effort.