In a major renewal of its economic cooperation with Sri Lanka, Finland has announced that it is ready to form a joint business council with Sri Lanka for the first time, as revealed on 04 December.
Accordingly, Sri Lankan ICT start-ups have received a breakthrough invitation to showcase themselves at one of world's top-tier start-up events in 2015.
"It is time that we establish a Finland-Sri Lanka Business Council for B2B activities. Such a mechanism will kick-start the process. We are also looking forward to see SME level Sri Lankan ICT BPM and business start-ups at the 2015 Slush event in Helsinki," said Finnish Deputy Minister of External Economic Relations and Finnish Under-Secretary of State Matti Anttonen on 04 December in Colombo.
Anttonen, who was leading the first-ever Finnish business delegation to Sri Lanka, was addressing Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen during a courtesy call on Bathiudeen at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Joining Bathiudeen were EDB Chairman and CEO Bandula Egodage and Director General of Department of Commerce R.D.S. Kumararatne.
The first-ever high level trade and business delegation to Sri Lanka from the world's ICT leader Finland, consisted of Delhi-based Roving Ambassador of Finland to Sri Lanka Rauli Suikkanen, Aide for Trade Coordinator/MFA Pertti Ikonen, First Secretary/Office of the Roving Ambassador Ulpu Koskinen, South Asia Unit/MFA Attaché Janne Hirvonen, Finnpartnership Director Siv Ahlberg, Finpro Regional Office, New Delhi Head Leena Osterberg, Finnfund Senior Advisor (PhD) Anand Sethi and Outotec Corporation, Sri Lanka Director Jouni Aitamaa.
"As for Sri Lanka's growth, the positive thing we see is that things could only get better here. The business atmosphere in Sri Lanka is very good and encouraging. My delegation had a very good series of meetings in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka tourism is on our radar. We are No. 9 in the global Doing Business Index," said Finnish Deputy Minister Anttonen.
"Our economy, after a little stagnation, has started to grow again. As for Finnish investments to Sri Lanka, there is growing interest. Slush is the focal point for Eurasian IT start-ups and tech talent to meet with top-tier international influencers, investors and media and is backed by such successful innovators as Rovio, Supercell and MySQL. Sri Lankan IT and business services can promote their ventures at Slush," he added.
The Nordic powerhouse is the world's ICT innovation leader and is also the lead producer and user of information and communication technology in the world. It ranks at No. 1 on the Legatum Prosperity Index. The US$ 195 billion economy was also the birthplace of such global brands as Nokia, and Nokia Siemens Networks, F-Secure (IT sector), and Viking Line (shipping).
"Your visit to Sri Lanka and also the proposal to establish first Finland-Sri Lanka Business Council will create the much-needed new platform of economic cooperation for both countries and will boost bilateral trade," said Bathiudeen.
"We thank you for your renewed interest in Sri Lanka. We are focusing on a globally-competitive industrial development effort in Sri Lanka as per the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, backed by market-oriented policies. Even our trade policy with a liberalised tariff structure is focused on hub-focused development.
Partnering with Finland, specifically with Finnish investors, will open the door for both parties for win-win outcomes. Finnish investors can invest here and use our regional Free Trade Agreements such as ISFTA and PFTA to access the growing South Asian markets while Sri Lanka could benefit from Finnish funds and crucial tech transfers. With bilateral trade at a mere $ 28 m, both countries largely remain virgin markets to each other and it's time we move to explore this unrealised potential," Minister Bathiudeen said.
According to the Department of Commerce, Sri Lanka's trade with Finland has been fluctuating for the last few years and reported US$ 28 million in 2013, with exports comprising US$ 16.05 million. Tea is the main item exported to Finland (55% in 2013), followed by apparel.
Delhi-based Roving Ambassador of Finland to Sri Lanka Rauli Suikkanen said this is the first time that a Deputy Finnish Minister is visiting Sri Lanka.
"A Finland-Sri Lanka Business Council will promote economic cooperation. Powerful Finnish institutions such as FinFund and FinPro can support in financing and facilitation in this regard," he said.
Sri Lanka's leading import from Finland, mobile cellular phones, saw their peak in 2010 and from 2011 is overtaken by marine propulsion engines and electric generating sets. Sri Lanka is a GSP Beneficiary Country under the EU GSP Scheme, which gives an added advantage for Sri Lankan exports to Finland.