Bilateral trade between Pakistan, Finland picking up

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Dec 6, 2013.

Islamabad – Exactly 96 years ago, on December 6, Finland’s parliament adopted a Declaration of Independence that allowed the country to gain freedom from Russian rule.

The Nordic country shares a border with Russia — the land route distance from Finland’s capital Helsinki to St Petersburg in Russia is just less than 400 kilometers — and had been under the Russian empire for over 100 years.

But a degree of autonomy during that period had allowed the Finns to develop democratic institutions which took over once Finland gained Independence, said Rauli Suikkanen, the Roving Ambassador of Finland to Pakistan.

Today, a welfare state with one of the lowest levels of corruption and one of the highest degrees of transparency in the world, Finland is also one of the first countries to have bilateral diplomatic relations with Pakistan, Suikkanen told The Express Tribune.

The Finnish Ambassador hosted a reception for Finland’s National Day at a local hotel in the capital on Wednesday. The reception was attended by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed, foreign dignitaries and representatives of Islamabad’s business community among other guests.

Finland closed its embassy in Pakistan in the summer of 2012 due to budgetary constraints. The shutdown was part of a Government of Finland savings drive, which also included the closing down of some 11 Finnish embassies and consulates around the world, the Ambassador said.

Suikkanen, who now operates from Helsinki but visits Pakistan regularly, said the embassy closure is temporary but he could not say when the embassy would be re-opened.

In the meanwhile, trade relations between the two countries are beginning to improve, Suikkanen said.

Stora Enso, a Finnish paper manufacturer, has recently set up a factory in Kasur and Vaisla, a high-tech equipment manufacturer, is one of several Finnish companies that have been working in Pakistan.

“Trade is too little at the moment but there is a huge potential for increase,” Suikkanen said.

To provide impetus for growth in bilateral trade, Finpro — the national trade, internationalization and investment development organisation in Finland — is expected to open offices in Pakistan soon.

“I think Finpro’s plan to open offices in Pakistan will be finalized early next year,” the Ambassador said. “The offices, which will probably be opened in Karachi and Lahore, will offer focal points for Finnish companies that want to look at business opportunities in Pakistan.”

Finland is also one of the ten countries that support the Multi Donor Trust Fund. The fund, administered by the World Bank, is financing reconstruction and development work in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan.

The Ambassador termed signs of maturity in Pakistan’s political environment and the transition from one democratically-elected civilian government to another in 2013 as “historical.” He said political stability is good for Pakistan’s image in the world.

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