'The European Union and India should sort out FTA negotiations'

'The European Union and India should sort out FTA negotiations'

The Ambassador of Finland to India, Nina Vaskunlahti, was in Bengaluru on her first visit, to attend the Nokia Innovation Day. Nina, who is just three months in India, has visited Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Lucknow. In an interaction with DH’s Umesh M Avvannavar, Nina shares the varied opportunities for Finland and India to increase bilateral trade and economic cooperation.

How is the trade relationship between Finland and India?

The amount of trade between Finland and India stands at over €1 billion. I think there are good prospects as the Indian economy is growing fast and offering opportunities for niche businesses. There are over 100 Finnish companies operating in India. There are some companies which have been here for quite a while and are doing well. For example, companies like Nokia, Kone, Kone Cranes, Cargotec, Wärtsilä, and Valmet. They are all well known names in the world, and hopefully, also in India.

What are the challenges in India?

I believe that the government’s role is to create an enabling framework for business to flourish. For instance, if India wants more business and investments from Finland, what we need is  transparency and predictability in procedures, whether we talk about customs or taxation, among others.

Moreover, what is important is that India and the European Union should sort out FTA (free trade agreement) negotiations, and what we find is very disturbing that this year, India has announced about terminating the bilateral investment agreements with all European countries.

With Finland, the agreement ends in 2018. Finland is a member of the EU, and so that’s why, we can’t start negotiating bilateral relations with India. We have to negotiate as a bloc, and these negotiations don’t seem to be happening, so that’s a step backwards.

What was the trade for last year, and how much you are expecting this year?

Let me say that the trade is hovering around €1.1 billion for the last three years. We would like to increase it further. I must say that the trade balance is positive for us, and negative for India. Nokia, for instance, has its biggest R&D centre in Bengaluru and employs over 5,500 people. That shows the ‘Finnish company’ Nokia’s commitment towards India.

How many Indian companies are present in Finland?

To my knowledge, there are 20 Indian companies based in Finland. Recently, Mahindra Group has invested in IT and Holiday Village House companies.

In what sectors are Finnish companies willing to invest in India?

The interest is in IT (Information Technology), ITeS (IT-enabled Services), Clean Technologies, Efficient Energy Solutions, Solar Energy, Bioscience, and Pharma, just to mention a few. The companies know better!

Do you have any investment figures of Finnish companies’ investments in India?

This is always a tricky question. But I was discussing with Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), and learnt that our joint investments would be over €1 billion.

What kind of initiatives have been taken by Finland to improve bilateral trade with India?
Union Minister for Coal, Minister of State for Power, New and Renewable Energy and Mines Piyush Goyal recently visited Finland with a business delegation, and his visit was followed only a week later by a Finnish business delegation led by our Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade coming to India. So, we are boosting interest at the ministerial level. In both countries, they are holding investment seminars and business get-together meetings. Goyal also met financial institutions/banks in Finland

Please share some details about India Awareness Day.

We are planning to organise an India Awareness Day in Finland, sometime next spring. The idea is to get together Finnish companies who are already active in India, and hear their experiences. We would like to get some Indian speakers, who could objectively speak about what India is all about.

In short, what we are doing is to boost relations on a political level, have ministers visit with business delegations, and give opportunities for business meets face-to-face, and see the possibilities in increasing awareness in Finland about India, and also sharpen the Finnish profile in India. So that when Indian companies think of finding partners or solutions, they would think of Finland and Finnish solutions.

What has been Finland’s role in boosting startups?

Every year, a big startup event called SLUSH is organised in November, in Helsinki. It brings startups and investors together. We would like to see more and more Indian startups and investors attending the event. It is a commercial event and we’re happy to advertise it. At Nokia Technology Day, I met few startups which have connection with Finland and talked about the possibility of the minister to create more cooperations with Karnataka, and Finland to create an “innovation corridor” between Karnataka and Finland.

What is the kind of work going on in the area of tourism?

This is an area where we have to do a lot of work. It will be one of our focus areas in the years to come. Because, what I have felt in my short time that is growing interest among Indians to travel to Finland, because our country is exotic and different. We have clearly four seasons, with peace and quite, lakes and fresh air.

It is easy to reach Finland from Delhi, as there is a direct flight to Helsinki which takes 6.5 hours. I think nature is the biggest attraction for Indians there.

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