Väyrynen: Irak has great growth potential to offer Finnish exports and business
Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen visited Iraq on 6 April. On his one-day visit to Baghdad, Minister Väyrynen was accompanied by a business delegation with a comprehensive representation of the various sectors of Finnish business and industry. The business delegation included directors from the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK and the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries as well as representatives of Elematic, Sampo-Rosenlew, Vaisala and Nokia Siemens Networks.
Minister Väyrynen’s visit to Iraq was the first visit by a Finnish government minister to the country in over 25 years. Minister Väyrynen had previously visited Iraq as Foreign Minister in 1978 and, owing to the hostage situation, as Member of Parliament in 1990.
During this trip the delegation met widely with the Iraqi leadership, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, two Deputy Prime Ministers, the Minister of Trade who served as host for the visit, the Foreign Minister and four sector Ministers as well as other leading decision-makers.
“The situation in Iraq is still exceptional following the recent wars. The country has tremendous reconstruction needs and Finnish companies would have much to offer in the specific sectors into whose development Iraq is paying particular attention,” Minister Väyrynen stated. The Minister estimated the total value of Iraq’s investment package at 200 billion dollars, based on the country’s five-year plan. Iraq has great aims to increase the level of oil production, when economic resources to fund various projects would also increase. Väyrynen concluded that Finnish business and industry has realistic potential to realise considerable increases in exports to Iraq. “I believe that we can raise our exports to about 200 million, the level prevailaing in 2008. That level can even be exceeded,” the Minister said.
The security situation is still difficult and companies should themselves evaluate when and how they launch operations in the country. Väyrynen stated, however, that the internal situation in Iraq has improved considerably. Jukka Ahtela, Director at the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK, said at the press conference that much could also be accomplished through partnerships. For example, trade between Sweden and Iraq has risen to new levels with the presence of the country’s business and industry in Iraq. The delegation also experienced that Finns are considered esteemed partners in Iraq. Ahtela thought that the visit was very well timed, and emphasised the importance of a Minister-led export promotion trip in a country like Iraq.
The reconstruction presents much opportunity for Finns, Ahtela stressed. Finland would be able to offer the expertise needed especially in energy production, construction and logistics and in the recreation of water supply and water systems, environment technology, teaching systems and healthcare technology. The country has to build, among others, its school system from the beginning up, and Finland’s asti ja Suomen recognised school system could serve as a good departure point, Ahtela continued.
Väyrynen hopes that Finland will once again deepen its relations with Iraq, which have traditionally been very good and warm. During the visit, the return of a Finnish Ambassador to Baghdad was also discussed. Finnish diplomats left Iraq 20 years ago when Saddam Hussein’s attach on Kuwait meant the start of the Persian Gulf War. In Väyrynen’s view, a resident Ambassador would be important particularly in promoting Finnish commercial and economic interests. The Minister also invited his ministerial colleagues to visit Finland; it is hoped that a delegation led by an Iraqi Minister would visit Finland during the coming summer. It would then be possible to organise wider meetings with representatives of Finnish business and industry.
There are at present are both trade and connections between Finland and Iraq. Minister Väyrynen’s delegation received perhaps the clearest indication of this upon arrival at Baghdad International Airport, where civil aviation is otherwise rather quiet. At the airport, alongside Iraqi commercial aircraft was a jet with the Finnish flag on the tail fin and the text “Air Finland” on the side. Aside from the Finnish charter airline’s plane, other Finnish technology was also seen in Baghdad. An escalator made by a Finnish elevator company was being installed at the airport, and the same company’s elevators provide soft rides at the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, a public servant at the Prime Minister’s Office said that his mother lives in Lappeenranta. Iraqi immigrants living in Finland are a link that could perhaps be used to advantage more in developing relations between the two countries.