On Norwegian-Finnish trade relations

State Secretary Marianne Hagen's address at a seminar in Helsinki on bilateral trade relations between Norway and Finland.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the introduction and thank you for inviting me to be here today.

State Secretary Marianne Hagen at the mini seminar in Helsinki. Credit: Silje Bjarkås Bryne, MFA
State Secretary Marianne Hagen at the mini seminar in Helsinki. Credit: Silje Bjarkås Bryne, MFA

It is a pleasure for me to visit Helsinki and an honour to attend this seminar focusing our bilateral trade relations.

Finland and Norway

Norwegians are fond of Finland and we have always felt a great affinity with the Finnish people. We have a lot in common. We share the same values and have a similar mentality in many ways. We also share the Nordic model, which is based on a strong belief in the rule of law, active civil society, freedom of expression, equality, solidarity and closeness to nature. The Economist has described the Nordic countries as ‘stout free-traders who resist the temptation to intervene even to protect iconic companies’ while at the same time looking for ways to temper capitalism's harsher effects, going on to declare that the Nordic countries ‘are probably the best-governed in the world’.

Norway and Finland share a long border in the north – 736 km to be exact – but we are more than ‘just good neighbours’. If you look closely at the map, you can see that our countries appear to be embracing each other.

Our countries are about the same size in terms of area and population. Smart ideas in one country will therefore often be smart ideas in the other. Our Nordic welfare models face many similar challenges, but they also have similar advantages, such as a well-educated population, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to do business with each other.

Finland is a country with strong human capital, and it has one of the world's best education systems – so good that educators from all over the world, including Norwegians, travel to Finland to learn from its schools.

As you may know, there was considerable support for the Norwegian Facebook campaign to give Mount Halti to Finland as a token of friendship and goodwill in connection with the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence in December 2017. Diplomatic relations were forged between our countries as early as spring 1918, and in the autumn of that year, Finland established diplomatic representation in Christiania (as Oslo was then called), and Norway did likewise in Helsinki. This was the formal start of a 100-year long official relationship, even though our historic ties date back much further.

Norway and Finland have similar positions in a wide range of policy areas, and are increasingly working closely together as partners. For example, we work together to combat climate change, to uphold a multilateral institutional framework based on international law, to champion good governance and respect for human rights, and to promote trade and development as a means to create stability and prosperity. I all these endeavours, we find a reliable and fundamentally like-minded partner in Finland.

Trade policy

We have seen immense progress during our lifetime, due to technological advances, international cooperation, trade, and wise politicians. Extreme poverty has been halved. Child survival rates have increased massively. More children, not least girls, now have access to higher education. Technology has developed beyond previous generations’ farthest dreams. These are all huge achievements.

Today, however, the prospects for international cooperation are bleaker than they were just a few years ago. A ‘new normal’ seems to be developing, where we see less political appetite for cooperation at a time when the world needs it more than ever.

We do not know what the future holds. However, we do know that politics matter. The choices we make today will shape the future.

I believe that our efforts to promote business and trade have never been more important than they are now. We must see these efforts against the backdrop of emerging markets, new technologies, digitalisation, and changing approaches to trade, including increasing protectionism and nationalistic policies. It is crucial to protect the multilateral trading system and the WTO as a unique platform for global trade. A predictable and rules-based trading environment is of fundamental importance for both Finland and Norway, and of course for the private sector.

Even though we face increasing competition in our export markets and changes in the composition of Norwegian exports in the time ahead, we want and need to have confidence in the WTO.

The Sustainable Development Goals

According to the Better Business, Better World report[ by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission], achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – or SDGs – could open up an estimated 12 trillion USD in market opportunities in four economic systems: food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being. These represent around 60 % of the global economy and are critical for our ability to achieve the SDGs.

Sustainable development is not just an ‘optional extra’; it is vital in order to safeguard the planet for future generations. Finland has a long tradition of promoting sustainable development both in domestic policies and in international development cooperation, and we share the same commitment and objectives.

Our Prime Minister Erna Solberg attaches great importance to the 2030 Agenda, which forms a framework for Norwegian foreign and development policy. She has highlighted that the 17 SDGs are universal and will guide us in our efforts to address the causes of persistent poverty, conflict and extremism, migration and climate change.

The private sector has a decisive role to play in the efforts to achieve the SDGs, and will be an important partner for us as we seek to realise the opportunities the goals represent.

With our legacy as a seafaring nation, it has been natural for us to take on a leading role in the context of SDG 14 – on the oceans. We have considerable expertise in ocean-related industries, with world-class companies and research institutions and a highly competent public sector. We remain at the forefront internationally in areas such as shipping, offshore oil and gas, fisheries and aquaculture.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg launched an international High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy last summer. The panel brings together global leaders with the mission of developing new knowledge about the oceans and harnessing their huge potential in a sustainable way. I am confident that this work will pave the way for new business opportunities in the blue economy.

Marine litter and micro-plastics are serious environmental concerns, and immediate action is needed. But this problem can be turned into a business opportunity in the future. Norway has established a programme to assist developing countries in combating marine litter. The Government has set aside USD 200 million for this programme for the period 2019 – 2022.

I would like to commend the Finnish Government for its marine policy paper, which was published last week. It is very clear to me that we share the same vision and objectives for a sustainable ocean.

We cannot advance sustainable economic growth in any area without the active participation of the private sector. Doing business has a far greater impact on economic growth and job creation than traditional development assistance. This is why private sector development and job creation are one of five priority areas in Norway's development policy.

We need to use development assistance in a catalytic way to mobilise private capital for private sector development. The public sector can help to promote new partnerships between the private sector and civil society organisations that can deliver on the incredible opportunities developing markets can offer. Our state-owned development finance institution, Norfund, is an important tool in this connection. Norfund invests as a minority shareholder in high-risk markets, in sectors that are crucial for development, like in renewable energy, finance institutions, food and agri-business, and in SMEs. Norfund receives annual allocations under the national budget, and focuses on investments in least developed countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Business promotion

Moving from the global scene to the bilateral setting, I would like to pay tribute to Finland as a global trendsetter in technology and design. We see Finland performing well in the areas of health, edtech, fintech, defence technology, energy and environment, the maritime industry, and LNG.

Norway is one of Finland's most important trading partners, in terms of both exports and imports. Finland is Norway's 13th largest trading partner for imports and 12th for exports.

Norwegian companies regard Finland as an important Nordic partner in health technology, edtech, fintech and the defence industry. Team Norway has listed 201 Norwegian-owned companies that are already established in Finland – ranging from Dressman to Creuna.

Let me give you a few examples of Norwegian high-tech companies in Finland. Firstly, itslearning, which delivers innovative, digital learning tools and services to support and enhance learning processes in the education sector.

In 1998, a group of students at Bergen University College wondered why digital tools were so rarely used for teaching. They decided to develop a learning management system for their master’s project. The result was a single platform where teachers could share educational resources and files, and students could complete and hand in assignments. It was a hit. The next year, itslearning was born, and Bergen University College became its first customer.

Today, itslearning has become a market leader in the primary and secondary education sector in the Nordic region. It also has significant market shares in the higher education market. I feel confident in saying that itslearning is one of the leading global corporations in the learning platform market.

The head office of itslearning is in Norway, and it has subsidiaries in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, Germany and France. It also has its own sales organisation that manages direct sales to other markets, as well as dealers in the Middle East, Poland, Lithuania, Mexico and Turkey.

Another example I would like to highlight is Man in Van. This company provides maintenance and installation services for over 40 chains all over Finland within retail, fuel distribution, hotels and restaurants, and healthcare services. Man in Van has a bigger turnover in the Finnish market today than the mother company had in Norway when it started to expand internationally in 2010.

Both companies have profited from services provided by the Norwegian Foreign Service and Innovation Norway in their drive to go international.

When I ask Norwegian companies what the biggest challenges are when entering a new market, they seldom mention a need for capital or knowledge about market potential or competitors. Most often they have questions about practicalities, such as how to establish a new company and perhaps most importantly, how to get access to the local business community. Most of the Norwegian companies in Finland say that starting business in Finland is relatively simple.

Norwegian companies present in Finland have also told me that Finnish industry and management tend to be dominated by engineers. Their view is that challenges can be solved through a technical approach. Meetings are often well structured, and leaders emphasise efficiency and order. Finns and Norwegians are quite similar in that respect!

Export strategy

The Norwegian Government launched a new export strategy in September 2017. Our ambition is to strengthen Norway’s position as a trading nation. To succeed, we need to ensure access both to new and to existing export markets, attract foreign investments to Norway, and position Norway as a leading research and innovation hub in fields where we have specialist expertise.

We also need to set priorities carefully when it comes to our presence abroad – so that we can get the most out of our limited resources.

The export strategy sets out that our diplomatic and consular missions should gain an overview of trade barriers that Norwegian businesses will meet in the various markets. We are confident that this will enable the missions to provide even better support to Norwegian business abroad.

One of the key tasks of our Foreign Service is to promote Norway’s business interests abroad. Internationalisation is crucial for maintaining the competitiveness of the Norwegian business sector, and high priority is given to supporting individual companies.

It can take years for businesses to build up the knowledge they need in new markets. Our embassies are expected be proactive and service-minded in their interaction with the Norwegian business community, to share their knowledge and views, and to listen to the concerns of company leaders.

Of course, embassies do not possess in-depth knowledge about every sector or market. But what they do have is a well-established network of contacts and a capacity to connect and guide businesses in the right direction, and maybe open some doors too.

In recent years, the Norwegian Government has made a concerted effort to enhance the competitiveness and innovation capacity of Norwegian industry in order to secure our future welfare through increased exports and foreign investments to Norway.

With this in mind, we have developed some tools to ease market access for businesses. I would like to present three of them:

1: Brand Norway

The Brand Norway project was launched last year. The goal is to enhance Norwegian value creation through increased exports of goods and services, and to attract more foreign companies, investors, tourists and talents to Norway. The development of a strong national brand is central to the initiative.

Brand Norway provides a comprehensive range of inspiring stories about Norway and Norwegian businesses, as well as easy access to information and materials for presentations and events.

2: The Explorer

Another important tool in our toolbox is the digital platform The Explorer, which invites Norwegian companies to present green and sustainable solutions to a global audience.

In January 2017, Innovation Norway was commissioned to develop The Explorer, and it was launched the year after. This digital showroom is intended as a global matching service for international companies to find Norwegian solutions to their problems.

Let me give you an example:

Let us say that the city of Helsinki is upgrading its public transport system and is looking for zero-emission ferry shuttles.

In Bergen, a cleantech start-up is prototyping a small electric ferry. The company CEO has registered this solution on The Explorer, where the public procurement officer in Helsinki can easily find it, and consider whether this is what she is looking for.

3: Team Norway

Team Norway is a network of public and private stakeholders that are promoting internationalisation of the Norwegian business sector.

The purpose of the collaboration is to contribute to increased value creation in the Norwegian economy through exchange of information and coordinated efforts and initiatives.

I am curious to learn more about the Team Finland network, as we are currently evaluating our own business support system.


Distinguished guests,

One industry where Finland and Norway enjoy long-standing and highly valued cooperation is the tourist industry, especially when it comes to selling the Arctic to Asian markets.

These tourists are looking for a range of exciting and interesting experiences – from visiting the North Cape to reindeer sleighing in Sapmi, downhill skiing in Riksgränsen, or meeting Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. I’m not going to get into a discussion about whether Santa Claus is Finnish or Norwegian. You have certainly developed very successful commercial activities in this connection. We Norwegians have something to learn here….

A good example of our cross-border tourist cooperation is the Visit Arctic Europe project – a ground breaking collaboration between a range of actors in northern Finland, Sweden and Norway. The main objective is to increase profitability in the tourist industry, thereby creating new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship in the Arctic.

This just one example. There are many more.

I am convinced that there are promising opportunities for developing further cooperation in many different sectors and specific industries that can result in win-win situations on both sides of the border. I believe that smart cooperation can provide a real boost to both countries in the years to come.

On this note, I would like to thank you once again for this opportunity to speak to you today. And I look forward to hearing your comments on the potential for further developing the commercial relationship between Finland and Norway.