Interview | Economy

Finland keen to partner India: Anne-mari virolainen

We are eyeing AI, IoT, says Finland’s Foreign Trade Minister

Finland is exploring new partnerships with India in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and cybersecurity beside traditional sectors of pulp, paper and heavy industrial machinery, says Anne-Mari Virolainen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland. Edited excerpts:

How is the economic partnership progressing between the two countries?

All the [officials] that we met they have mentioned that they have a very long lasting and good relations with Finland. If we think about the companies, the trade between two countries both trading goods and services is growing. We have so-called traditional sectors like pulp and paper, heavy industrial machinery and equipment and ICT [information and communications technology]. For example, Nokia has been here for many years. The business of traditional sectors is growing and then we have found some new potential sectors like artificial intelligence, IoT, different kinds of digital solutions and 5G. So, there is a lot of potential [between the two countries].

But bilateral trade between India and Finland has dipped since 2013-2014?

We always need to think about the business environment. If Finnish companies see that the business environment here is predictable, [like] there are no trade barriers...that will also be beneficial for both sides. If a Finnish company invests in India, most of the [professionals] they have, I would say 99.9%, are recruited from here. Finnish companies employ a lot of local people. Around 30,000 Indian people work for these firms. Also, big companies like Nokia here in Karnataka has around 6,500 people. When I talk to my counterparts and other Ministers, it’s very important that we identify the areas where we have a common interest. For example, we [recently] signed a memorandum of understanding for ‘Innovation Corridor’ between Finland and the State of Karnataka. We have many MoUs as we plan to broaden bilateral collaboration. Other new areas we have identified are cybersecurity, environmental space, geological survey, vocational education and tourism.

Could you explain these business environment issues?

We are a small country [and] are heavily dependent on exports and we are part of the European Union. EU has done a lot of free trade agreements with many different countries [but] we don’t have a free trade agreement with India. And if there are customs tariffs or some restrictions in public procurement, that’s deteriorating the [business] environment... we met [Union Minister for Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation] Suresh Prabhu and discussed these issues [like access into the market]...I think the main message from the companies was that they need to know what kind of laws will be here... For example, if they have a production plant here for ICT companies and if they want to import some components, the duties on those components are so high that it’s not cost-efficient to build it here. Those kinds of obstacles are still there. But we commend India for climbing up in the [World Bank’s] ‘ease of doing business index.’ Also, the companies said [when] they contact the administration for any problems, they get answers really quickly.

What are the opportunities that both countries are exploring?

We met the chairman of NTPC [India’s largest electricity producer] and we had three companies with us who are global energy players. They have some projects, but I cannot tell anything specific as we are in the negotiation process. But I see if those projects proceed, that would be beneficial for both the countries. We also brought a [delegation] of small and medium-sized companies with us and they had discussions with their counterparts. Business Finland signed MoU with India’s Department of Biotechnology for research cooperation. We are also looking to collaborate for IT-based healthcare. [This includes non-intrusive technologies that detect cancer in the early phase. Other technologies include electric vehicle charging solutions]

What are Finland’s plans in terms of tapping start-ups and talent here?

The message I got from the [Finnish] companies is that they trust this market. They want to stay here and grow. There is a very positive thing about India, you have so many highly talented people.

We have launched ‘Talent Boost programme’ in Finland and we are trying to get your ICT professionals to work in Finland. We are trying to [make the] access as easy as possible. Nowadays it takes around two months to get the permit to work. And for specialists including startups and IT professionals, it will be only two weeks.

We also have accelerator and incubator programmes for start-ups. We don’t give incentives [like granted by other countries] but we provide a very good environment to live and work and a lot of help.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 12:00:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/business/Economy/finland-keen-to-partner-india-anne-mari-virolainen/article25766201.ece

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