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Speeches, 3/19/2009

Speech by Minister Paavo Väyrynen at South Africa-Finland Business Forum, Pretoria, 2nd of March

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Honourable Minister of Science and Technology of South Africa Mr. Mosibudi Mangena,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me a great pleasure to speak at this South-Africa-Finland Business Forum here in Pretoria today. I want to expess on behalf of my delegation and myself our gratitude to Minister Mangena for being here with us today. I also want to thank Innovation Hub for making their premises available for us and for all the excellent arrangements.

Finland and South Africa have today strong, dynamic and growing relations, which cover all the sectors of society. The basis for these relations was built during the anti-apartheid struggle, which Finland, like other Nordic countries, supported strongly.

The Finnish support to anti-apartheid movement was transformed to development cooperation in 1995, when Finnish government decided to support the transition to democratic South Africa. Since then Finland has supported with around 80 million euros a number of bilateral development cooperation programmes. Focus has been on ICT & innovation, developing Small Medium Micro Enterprises (SMME) sector, also in the rural areas, education and environmental administration.

South Africa is a strategic partner for Finland and the European Union. We acknowledge and highly appreciate the role and responsibilities you have taken in the promotion of political stability in Africa by your own example.

Finland is highly impressed by the achievements of the South Africa during the last 15 years. The political transformation to democracy has been a great success. Together with the political transformation the economical development has also been remarkable and South Africa is nowadays an important figure in the African continent and in the international forum. It was by means no coincidence that South Africa was chosen to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Ladies and gentlemen,

South Africa is the biggest and most important trading and investment partner for Finland on the African continent. Finnish exports to South Africa have increased steadily, and South Africa is today one of the most important destinations for Finnish exports outside the OECD. I have also noticed with great satisfaction the increase of South African exports and investments to Finland during the last few years. I am confident that, despite the current economic downturn, this trend will strenghten further.

Besides trade, South Africa is also the main destination for Finnish investors in Africa. Finnish companies are aware of the strategic location of South Africa as a regional hub for reaching out to the continent. Economic integration has become one of the most important factors to create more competitive economic environment to benefit from globalization. We strongly support all the efforts by the Southern African countries to promote their economic integration. We are also convinced that the Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and the African countries will strenghten these integration processes.

In the light of all this it was not a suprise that this many Finnish companies wanted to join my delegation to promote their business opportunities here. I am confident that during these two days existing commercial relations will be strengthened and new ones established.

Ladies and Gentelemen

When leading a business delegation I should perhaps market our country by boasting over our achievements, abilities and potential to the maximum. However, this would be against my nature. In this sense I am a typical modest Finn. So instead of telling you how good we are I will try to explain why Finland has been able to reach a high international standard in certain areas of social and economic development and what kind of challenges there are.

Finland has always understood the importance of open economy and liberal trade. We have had to strive to use our natural resources and other productive assets to our best knowledge to be competitive in the world. This is where the strong Finnish know-how comes from, that is so central to the success of our forest industry and technology, energy technology, environmental technology and ICT.

Traditionally high public awareness of environmental values, advanced legislation and its effective implementation as well as close cooperation between public and local administration and the private sector have made Finland a globally leading country in environmental expertise and technology. Climate change has only brought to the fore the importance of this development. Sustainability and energy efficiency will gain more weight in production and consumption patterns. In order to take advantage of this evident trend we need to invest in green sustainable technology.

Finland's geographical location up in the North and the consequent cold climate, long distances and development of energy-intensive industry, has increased our energy needs. At the same time, Finland's own energy resources - hydropower, wood and peat - are scarce. About 70 percent of the energy consumed in Finland is imported.

In response to these needs, developing an efficient energy system and technology has been a high priority for us for decades. Investments on research and development and continuous modernisation of energy systems have brought Finnish energy technology up to a world class standard. It has been noted internationally that the Finnish energy policy is well implemented and simultaneously supporting economic growth, meeting environmental challenges through the extensive use of renewable energy sources and securing the country's energy supply.

In Southern Africa Finland is about to start a regional Energy and Environment Partnerships (EEP) which is a Public Private Partnership programme aiming at promoting the use of renewable energy sources and clean technologies. This Partnership has already proved very successful in Central America.

Another trend that cannot be left without mentioning is the ever-growing role of information and communications technology and knowledge in the development of our societies. Finland is often being called the world's telecommunications test laboratory. We are often asked how it was possible for Finland to become a technology-intensive, knowledge-based economy in such a short time in the late 1990s and the early years of the new century.

The background lies in the need to connect people. As a sparsely populated non-talkative nation, we needed a new channel of communication. Our friends and relatives live often far away, because distances are long in our country. So, there has been a need to connect people by means of telecommunications.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Today we signed a Declaration of Intent on "Deepening bilateral relations and strengthening partnerships" between Finland and South Africa. Signing of this document aims to enhance current and future partnerships between our countries. Special focus over the past years has been given to the partnerships in the field of knowledge society and science and technology.

In this sector the cooperation with Your Ministry, Mr. Minister and other relevant partners such as the Meraka Institute has been very valuable to Finland and fruitful to our bilateral relations. New kinds of sustainable public-private and private-private partnerships have been built and there will be the first trilateral programme between Finland and South Africa and Nepad on biosciences started this spring.

To facilitate and to promote the creation of future partnerships and commercial relations, there is wide range of instruments available such as Finnpartnership and Instrument for Institutional Cooperation, to name a few. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This workshop is organised by Finpro and the Embassy of Finland. They both are always at your disposal in promoting business ties between our countries now and in the future.

I would like to wish you all success in your business endeavours. I hope that today's workshop will provide you all with fruitful contacts and strengthen the relationship between our two countries.

Thank you for your attention.

This document

Updated 3/19/2009

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