In his first African tour as a Prime Minister Finalnd’s Jyrki Katainen visited Ethiopia and Tanzania from 26–31 January, to strengthen bilateral relations, trade and development links, as well as promoting export for Finnish companies in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen also pointed out that the Forum would allow participants to exchange ideas about accelerating and expanding business and trade relations between the two countries.
In an exclusive interview with Capital’s Groum Abate, PM Jyrki Katainen discussed future opportunities between Ethiopia and Finland; Excerpts:
Capital: How was your time here in Ethiopia?
PM Jyrki Katainen: It was excellent. It was very nice talking to Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, who was also my school mate. We studied in the same University in Finland. We didn’t know each other back then but his knowledge about Finland is remarkable. Apart from that we have talked about the current bilateral relationship between the two countries, which are very good. I am also very impressed by the assessment from the PM about the horn of Africa, which is really a big responsibility and we applaud Ethiopia’s effort in playing a big role in the stabilization of the region. The role as a facilitator for building the peace process is very challenging. Moreover the politicians in this country must have a bigger picture that you cannot, by yourself, develop excluding neighboring countries. Ethiopia benefits from the stability of the region and the leaders of this country have done a remarkable job in achieving this. When I met with the Prime minister we talked about the trade relationship and the situation in the region which is enlightening.
The other purpose of my visit is promoting trade between the two countries. I have over 30 big companies with me that are really interested in the opportunities that exist in this country. Companies that are involved in the agriculture, energy, and forestry sectors are here to invest. From these ICT companies like Nokia, and also Rovio which is well known from its Angry Birds games globally and is now introducing its Angry Birds educational software, are very satisfied by the discussions with different stakeholders in the country.
Capital: Currently there are only two small Finnish companies here. Are you optimistic that the companies that came today will invest?
PM Katainen: I know of some deals which should be concluded in a short time. The companies are interested in investing and the signs we have seen here are very encouraging. I am very optimistic that this number will change in the near future.
Ethiopia is a big market, and its economy is growing fast. Ethiopia is also stable. Ethiopia’s role in the international arena is also big. The commitment of the country for stability and the incentive for the private sector to invest will attract investment from anywhere.
Capital: Why are you only visiting Ethiopia and Tanzania? And what made you choose to come here?
PM Katainen: The only reason for visiting the two countries is time constraints. However when we planned to visit Africa, my government first selected Ethiopia. Plus when we asked the participating companies where they wanted to go, they said Ethiopia. When we selected Ethiopia to visit, we saw our long history of partnership and bilateral relations. It is also a big market as I mentioned earlier. We have a strong relationship and the first development cooperation here in Ethiopia was established in 1967.
Capital: Your government is cutting aid to developing countries connecting it to the economic crisis and issues of human rights?
PM Katainen: Yes we are cutting aid because the economic crisis affected Finland. In 2013 our aid to Ethiopia was 15.7 million Euros and in 2012 it was 18 million Euros. So we are cutting our development aid and the aid we give out now stands at 0.55 percent of our GDP, it used to be 0.6 percent of our GDP. Currently we are in a situation where we have raised taxes and cut the development aid budget.
We are also efficiently using aid money for trade which we believe will promote trade and create jobs in developing countries. So even though the money is lower the quality is higher. We are also taking the trade part of the aid more seriously. So that’s why we are here with the companies.
We look more into trade. We have an agency called FINNFUND, which is also participating here in Ethiopia on many projects. One of the many examples is in mobile banking. This helps to ease the payment system in the country by paying your bill in your by mobile phone.
Capital: Some of the companies that accompanied you are eager to participate in the energy sector here, specifically oil.
PM Katainen: Finland only has oil refiners. We don’t pump oil but there are companies that are interested in building a refinery here. For instance Neste Oil is one of the companies in Finland that refines raw oil and they are interested in producing bio-fuel.
If Ethiopia starts pumping oil the building a refinery here in the country will add value. Refinery construction is complicated and huge.
There are companies in the electricity sector and they build generators. Some are companies that participate in an energy efficiency, which are also global players. The other is hydropower and the third is renewable energy. That company turns waste into energy in a sophisticated way. Companies are also interested in producing bio-fuel which will lessen the dependency on oil.
Capital: Your development cooperation minister Pekka Haavisto has criticized Eritrea a number of times. He also criticized the country earlier this month. What is your government’s view?
PM Katainen: I fully agree with what he said and we have been talking about Eritrea during this trip also. The situation there has not been that encouraging but hopefully things will change.
Capital: How about the Nokia’s fading Business?
PM Katainen: Nokia is doing great at the moment. However it was difficult when it sold out its mobile unit business because Nokia’s mobile business is a concrete example of our economic growth from the beginning of the 1990s. When we look at the business side of it they got 5.5 billion Euros in cash from Microsoft. They also saved the patents for their products so they will work on new innovations and products. When looking at this from Finland’s point of view, we are in a happy situation that Microsoft is investing in Nokia. Nokia is also interested in the Ethiopian market.
Capital: Nokia constructed the first mobile towers some years back. However the two Chinese companies overtook the business solely. Do you think Nokia can compete with these telecom giants?
PM Katainen: If it is a fair and open competition it is fine. There is nothing about it. If Nokia cannot compete then it’s their problem. However if it’s not transparent and fair competition then it is not fair.