The Business Year

Lenita Toivakka

UAE, DUBAI - Diplomacy

Getting to Know You

Minister of Foreign Trade and Development, Finland


Lenita Toivakka was appointed Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development on May 29th, 2015. She previously served as Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade from June 24th, 2014. Minister Toivakka has been an MP (National Coalition Party) since 2007, focusing on the economy, security, and well being in Finland and Europe. She has held several leadership positions in the National Coalition Party, including Vice-Chair of the parliamentary group (2010-14) and Chair of the Women’s League since 2012. Minister Toivakka holds a Master’s degree in Economics and Business Administration from the Helsinki School of Economics. She is also a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. From 1991 to 1994 she served as marketing manager of A. Toivakka Oy, from 1994-05 as a K-Citymarket retailer at CM-Toivakka Oy, and since 2005 as one of the owners of CM-Toivakka Oy. Minister Toivakka has served on several boards and associations.

"Clean technology is an excellent example of an area where we can cooperate."

What was the ultimate purpose of your visit to the UAE recently on a business delegation?

The ultimate purpose of the visit was to deepen the relationship between our countries. The UAE and Finland already have quite close relationships on commercial and trade matters, but it is now is a good time to learn more about each other; there is such a huge possibility to strengthen our cooperation. I went to learn about the country, what its plans and strategies for the future are, and what people are thinking. This is good timing because the world is changing quite rapidly and in Finland many reforms are taking place, so it is good to get closer so that we really know each other. This will also work to deepen trade relations. In Finland, we have many sectors and lots of expertise that are of considerable interest to public authorities and companies here. We are trying to deepen cooperation in these sectors.

HE Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wants to accelerate the transition to a knowledge economy, based on creativity and innovation. How can Finland help facilitate the process?

That’s a good question because one word that was used quite a lot during the visit was “innovation.” In Finland, we are very much focusing and emphasizing innovation at all levels. It’s in our education, in universities, and we had very many young entrepreneurs creating startups during the crises and they built upon modern inventions. At the same time, these SMEs are highly innovative. Finland has a good platform to create innovation because our education is very good, starting from primary schools all the way to universities and we are always trying to think creatively and to make something new.

Finland has top education standards. What advice could you give to Dubai regarding education?

We have been discussing a lot on education. Finland is very good in that area; we have very good basic training. We have been talking a lot about this training and also new ways to study, including the e-learning, fun learning, and new methods based on ICT. There are interesting ways to use technology in the schools. I hope for more cooperation between our countries. Through education you build a basis for innovation. It’s where you plant a seed. The young people and children think creatively. That’s how to innovate. This leads to startup enterprises. We have this event called “Slush,” which means wet snow. That’s in November because that’s normally the time of year when we have wet snow in Finland. It’s a huge event. Altogether last year 14,000 people were gathered in Helsinki. There were startups, entrepreneurs, and investors. They got connected and it was good. We are inviting investors from the UAE and all over the world to this event in November. This Slush event is kind of a Finnish event we want to spread all over the world. The idea behind this is innovation and for small startups to have a platform to explain what they do. In Finland, we have a very harsh climate so we have to think wisely how we use our natural resources. We have to think very creatively. We want to be energy efficient and use all our resources very sparsely. Also, we want to keep our nature clean. It’s very important for Finnish people. We think of the environment first all the time so that we don’t spoil it for our children. That’s important for Finland. That’s the idea for many of the innovations that Finland right now is famous for.

How can the UAE and Finland cooperate in areas such as health or clean tech?

Clean technology is an excellent example of an area where we can cooperate. During the visit we met a lot of locals and politicians and we discussed topics in this area. The UAE is very much focusing on models and strategies, changing toward renewables, including solar energy and so on. Finland has this kind of high-tech know-how for solar power and also wind power. That is one sector. Also, we have high technology in the waste management area. That’s very interesting. Waste management from waste into energy is very interesting. Also, water management is very high technology in Finland. Aside from that, we also have high expertise in healthcare, and this is something that is important in both countries. We have challenges related to diabetes or increasing numbers of cancers or people not exercising enough or eating too much. In Finland, there are a surprising number of new enterprises coming into this sector all the time. Many of these enterprises are now visiting the UAE with very modern technology based on ICT, which is very efficient. There are many technologies that help to prevent cancers or make life easier for those with diabetes and so on. It’s an interesting area.

What is your long-term vision of relations between the UAE and Finland?

We have many common interests, like these health issues, and we are very keen on taking good care of our environment. I think these are the future sectors where we could really do more, as well as education. We are very future-oriented. We are worried about our children and being healthy, environmentally friendly, and so on. These ideas are somehow very similar in our countries. Also, we are wholesome people who take good care of our families. That’s why our children are taken care of, as well as our elderly. In these three sectors there are so many possibilities to push ahead with more cooperation because we have the same kinds of visions and goals. Also, it’s not just a one-way cooperation. I always see these trade relations as a win-win. We are here to learn. When we work together, we get new innovations. These are the kinds of things that cannot be born in Finland only. When we work together, it’s something new. And also maybe that will interest other countries. This area is also a gateway to other countries, like the Middle East, the rest of the GCC, and the greater MENA region. Also, maybe the UAE sees Finland as a gateway to the rest of northern Europe. There is a lot to gain, for both countries.

What are your thoughts on the EU-GCC free trade agreement?

Finland is a strong supporter of all free trade and free trade agreements. We think it’s important for a country like us, a small European country reliant on exports—and I understand the UAE is similar. It would be wise to discuss about how we can start these negotiations again.



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