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News, 8/16/2016 | Embassy of Finland, London

Interview: Questions to Minister Kai Mykkänen about trade policy and development cooperation

First-term Member of Parliament Kai Mykkänen was appointed Minister for Foreign Trade and Development on 22 June 2016. What are the new minister’s thoughts as he takes up his post? What is the thinking about trade policy and development cooperation? Are changes envisaged in Ministry policies – and if so, what kind? Minister Kai Mykkänen responds.

Minister Kai Mykkänen. Photo: Laura Kotila/Prime Minister's Office.
Minister Kai Mykkänen. Photo: Laura Kotila/Prime Minister's Office.

What are the most important goals of your term as minister?

In the sector of foreign trade, my most important goal is to promote the internationalisation of Finnish enterprises. This includes the advancement of free trade, the development of Team Finland work and, for instance, finding solutions to the bottlenecks in financing for small and medium-size enterprises. There is a need to consider how we can get Finnish companies to seize international opportunities with an open mind, how to spark the interest, in particular, of small and medium-sized enterprises to go abroad. And what can we do so that our support for the internationalisation of companies would be at least at the same level as in the other Nordic countries, or preferably of course even better.

As to development cooperation, I want to see how we can best help developing countries get on their feet sustainably. I strongly believe that here, too, free trade and development of the private sector’s operating conditions in developing countries have an important role to play. Naturally assistance in the traditional sense is important in certain fragile countries and in specific sectors. In this regard, however, I don’t see any contradiction: the rule of law and good governance are the key words for investments, which in turn bring jobs. When at the same time we help countries to strengthen their tax base, they will be able to offer their citizens – girls and boys, women and men – basic services such as healthcare and education.

DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION

Naisia torilla Malissa. Kuva: Nora Klami/UM.
Photo: Nora Klami/MFA.

What kind of experience do you have of developing countries? What is your “relation” to development policy and development cooperation?

Honestly, my own developing country experience is limited to travel and reading. I’ve always been the sort of traveller who strives to observe the society and reflect on how its structure differs from our own. In particular, I remember the very primitive conditions in rural areas of Laos from the trip I made by train one summer with friends, going to Thailand via Russia, Mongolia, China and Laos. I consider development cooperation to be a very important part of our work. I would especially like to develop its effectiveness and also to keep in focus what can be achieved with Finland’s investments in development.

Will Finland continue to focus on improving the position of women and girls?

Absolutely. Improving the position of women and girls – like other priorities of the Government Report on Development Policy – remains a cornerstone of our work. We are now seeing how these priorities are taken into practice in our various partner countries. My own handprint is sure to show here.

Improving the economic position of women is important also for developing countries in terms of development. The global economy incurs high costs because of women’s inadequate possibilities to exert economic influence.

Of particular importance is the education of women and girls. Women and girls are typically the first to remain outside education. Everyone’s know-how and work contribution are required in order for societies really to get to their feet. As Foreign Minister Soini stated in Pori this summer: “A country that wastes half of its strengths, namely girls and women, is foolish.”

Equality is an important issue for me personally as well. Finland has a long history of gender equality, and we can be proud of the fact that women serve internationally as examples in the economy, politics and in the level of education. But gender equality isn’t a complete reality in Finland, either, and we cannot be lulled into thinking so. I’d like to point out that Finnish men play an important role here. In Finland, men share responsibility for the home and family more than men in many OECD countries – I myself strive to do so as well, and I will highlight this aspect both in Finland and internationally.

TRADE POLICY

Team Finland. Kuva: Valtioneuvoston kanslia/Team Finland
Photo: Prime Minister's Office/Team Finland.

Sanctions against Russia have impacted on Finland’s trade with Russia. How do you intend to act so that trade with Russia would recover and Finland’s competitiveness would improve? Should the sanctions be lifted?

The impacts of the sanctions on Finland’s trade with Russia are often exaggerated. More than 90 per cent of our exports are free of the sanctions. Our trade with Russia is low not because of the sanctions but because the halving of the price of oil has meant the collapse of purchasing power. Due to the value of the rouble, for instance the cost in roubles of a cup of coffee on the Esplanade is now almost twice as high as three years ago.

Of course as chairman of the Finnish–Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation, I will look into how we can best help Finnish enterprises on Russian markets. The Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation will meet in November, after a few years’ break, but practical work is done every day both at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and at our diplomatic missions in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk and Murmansk.

When speaking about the sanctions, one must always remember why we in the EU decided to impose them – Russia violates international law. In this we are, and we remain, clearly part of the Western front. Finnish history shows that compliance with international law is a guarantee of our independence and our security. I don’t think we want the West to accept the violation of international law.

What is the importance of export promotion visits today? How do you measure success in this sector?

Export promotion visits are important particularly in markets where the state plays a strong role. There are still very many of these countries, especially outside Europe. Of course it should be remembered that one visit doesn’t solve everything. Also needed are clear plans, solid preparation as to where export promotion visits should head and what the timetable should be and, especially, follow-up of the leads acquired during meetings. In this follow-up work, Team Finland can and should support enterprises, but it is good to remember that, in the end, enterprises themselves make deals.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND THE COMMON CHALLENGES FACED BY HUMANKIND

Mekong. Kuva: Marja-Leena Kultanen
Photo: Marja-Leena Kultanen/MFA.

What do you think is the most serious challenge facing humankind at the moment? What should be done?

Climate change. We can already see how it is driving people from their homes. Fortunately, Finland has a high level of know-how in environmental technology. Through exports of environmental technology, we can have a significant effect on the world’s carbon footprint. Finland’s footprint is only about a per mille, but if we can replicate Finnish pioneering solutions in other countries, our handprint in addressing the challenge may be at least tenfold.

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