UNBREAKABLE BOND

Sharjah 2015 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland, on the attractiveness of Finland to foreign companies, its relationship with the UAE, and co-operation between the two states.

Sauli Niinistö
BIOGRAPHY
Sauli Niinistö is the President of the Republic of Finland, and assumed office in March 2012. He was born on August 24th, 1948 in Salo, Finland. He earned a Master’s degree in Law in 1974 at the University of Turku, and practiced law at his own law office from 1978 to 1988. As a Member of National Coalition Party, Sauli Niinistö was elected to the Parliament of Finland from 1987 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2011. He served as a Minister of Justice from 1995 to 1996, and as a Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2003. He acted also as a Deputy Prime Minister from 1995 to 2001. From 2007 to 2011, he served as the Speaker of the Parliament. From 2003 to 2007, Sauli Niinistö served as the Vice President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Luxembourg. President Niinistö is active in sports, and was Chairman of the Finnish Football Association from 2009 to 2012. He is also actively engaged in helping young people in danger of exclusion from society, and is one of the founders of "Godparents in Support" Foundation.

How would you describe the opportunities that exist in Finland for investment stemming from the UAE, and the strategies that the Finnish government has in place to facilitate such investment?

Finland is an advanced industrial economy with a thriving private sector. We have a developed infrastructure, a skilled workforce, and competitive operating costs. Red tape is minimal and Finland is one of the least corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International. As one of the most competitive and open economies in the world, Finland has a great deal to offer foreign investors. Foreign-owned companies are eligible for a wide range of government and EU incentives on an equal footing with Finnish-owned companies. Foreign-owned companies can benefit from government investment incentives and access research from the extensive cooperation between Finnish universities and the private sector. Finland can offer attractive business and investment partnerships to the UAE, which currently is executing vast and ambitious development programs and plans across the board.

Could you reflect on the activities of Finnish companies in the UAE and the sectors of the UAE's economy that offer the most viable opportunities for enhanced cooperation and investment?

For Finland, the UAE represents a stable and predictable business environment with long-term potential and prospects. The UAE has been one of the main trading partners for Finland in the Middle East and Gulf region, and the number of our companies operating in the UAE is constantly growing. The focus of trade has been on paper industry, machinery and engineering, and more recently on information and communication technology. Today, the strengths of the Finnish economy lie both in its high technology industry and in the efficient management of the industry, the economy and society in general. As a result, we are able to provide world class products and services for example in business management, construction, energy, healthcare, and education sectors.

What is the significance of the UAE in Finland's foreign trade policy, and how do you see bilateral relations between the countries evolve in the near future?

Finnish exports value to the UAE is roughly €200 million annually. It used to be considerably larger in the early years of 2000 when our exports exceeded €1 billion with Nokia phones in the lead. Exports have declined since, partly because Nokia phone production has been shifted to other countries. Finnish export is, however, picking up again and prospects in various fields seem promising.

How are Finland and the United Arab Emirates working towards promoting the foundations of regional peace and stability?

Finland and the UAE are both part of the international coalition to counter ISIL. It is important for both of us to stress that defeating ISIL requires a long-term and comprehensive approach. Finland's efforts range from development aid to supporting the resilience and capabilities of the countries in the region. In March 2015, Finland also made the decision to participate in the security sector training in Iraq, as part of an international effort to strengthen the capability of the Iraqi army and peshmerga forces to counter ISIL. We will participate in the training operation in Erbil with about 50 soldiers for at least one year under the German leadership. Our full capacity in the operation will be reached in the beginning of August. Finland also supports the region with development aid. Our aid to alleviate the effects of the Syrian conflict will be at least €5 million in 2015. The focus is on building the resilience of the neighboring countries receiving refugees (Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq). In addition, Finland provides humanitarian assistance to the region based on needs. For example, since 2011 we have already provided €49 million of humanitarian aid to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and €15.7 million to Yemen. I commend the UAE for its valuable role in international humanitarian efforts. Dubai, in particular, has become a vital humanitarian hub in the region with the efforts made by the International Humanitarian City.