By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
It’s renowned for its transparent finances and solid economic growth (an expected 2.9 percent for 2018, and a predicted 2.2 percent for 2019), recognized universally for it superb public education and gender equality (in 1906, it was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote and stand as candidates in national elections), and is by far the of the most avid Nordic supporter of European unity (it joined the EU in 1995 and was one of the first countries to join the eurozone in 1999).
But while Finland is a shining example of sound economic policies, sustainable development (over 78 percent of the country’s total land area is covered with woodlands), social justice and respect for human rights, the so-called Land of a Thousand Lakes (which is, in fact, is a bit of an understatement, since it actually has nearly 188,000 lakes) remains relatively unknown in Mexico and far too often overlooked by Mexican businesses.
On the diplomatic plane, Mexico and Finland have maintained friendly relations for over eight decades, since 1936, when the two nations signed a bilateral Treaty of Friendship in Washington D.C., and in the last five years, there have been an exchange of at least four high-level political visits.
Finland was one of the first country’s to invest in Mexico’s in-bond maquiladora industries after the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, and although Finland’s largest single investor in Mexico, Nokia, sold off its shares to a U.S. firm in 2014, total accumulated Finnish investment here still amounts to about $670 million.
But when it comes to bilateral trade, the figures are less than impressive, under $700 million in combined commercial exchange for 2017.
Little wonder than that when Finnish Ambassador to Mexico Roy Eriksson offered his national day speech at his residence on Thursday, Dec. 6, one of the main focuses of his discourse was to showcase new areas in which his country can help Mexico’s new government to reach its social and developmental goals through trade and technology transfers.
“Mexico is at the threshold of a new era,” Eriksson said, after having congratulating Mexico profusely on its free and open elections last July and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his team of National Regeneration Movement (Morena) partners for their new administration.
“We would be happy to share our extensive knowhow with Mexico in helping to confront some of the new challenges that lie ahead in sustainable development and the objectives of the 2030 Agenda (17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to promote sustainable development worldwide by 2030).”
Finland — which has committed to having at least 50 percent of its energy derived from renewable sources and abolishing all use of coal within the next 12 years – is a leader in clean energy technology, and Eriksson pointed out that Mexico has already expressed an interest in learning more about the little European nation’s advances in electrical transfers, bio-energy and the use of residual waste in energy production.
In May of this year, then-Energy Undersecretary Leonardo Beltrán visited Helsinki to meet with specialists in these fields, Eriksson noted.
“The cooperation between Finland and Mexico in the research of bio-energy has already been fruitful, and I hope that there will be success in that cooperation in the future,” he added.
Eriksson also spoke about Finland’s stellar education system, which has been a model for many countries around the world.
Because AMLO has promised to undo his predecessor’s controversial Education Reform and implement his own alternative revamping of Mexico’s public school system, the ambassador specifically talked about Finnish education’s strengths, tendencies and innovative approaches to learning.
“It seems that the topic of Finnish education and knowhow is a field of interest not just for Mexico, but for all of Latin America,” he said.
“We are ready to share our experiences (in the education sector) when Mexico begins to reform its own sector.”
He likewise said that it may be news to many Mexicans that Finland has a vast knowledge in cybersecurity and had developed cutting-edge technology to protect against hacking and other internet threats.
Another area where Eriksson said Finland shines is in the development of smart cities, using sustainable methods and clean public transport to resolve some of the problems of urban development.
Eriksson said that in the last year, a number of Finnish companies – including the air treatment equipment giant Halton-Innes, the environmental and industrial measurement group Vaisala and the Wärtsilä sustainable energy corporation – have established offices in Mexico.
“This is a demonstration of Finland’s interest in the Mexican market,” he said.
“The program of the new Mexican government puts an emphasis on values similar to those of Finland, such as equality, education, transparency and sustainable development.”
Eriksson said that he hopes that the new global agreement between Mexico and the European Union will soon be ratified, thus opening the door on both sides for greater trade and investment opportunities on both sides.
Finland was part of Sweden from 1154 to 1809, when it became an autonomous grand duchy of the Russian Empire.
But Russian exactions created a strong national spirit among the Finns and on Dec. 6, 1917, the country declared its independence from the czar.
In 1919, Finland became a republic after its new constitution was confirmed and Kaarlo Juho Stahlberg was elected as its first president.
During World War II, Finland was able to successfully defend its freedom and fend off invasions by the Soviet Union and Germany.
In the subsequent half century, the Finns made a remarkable transformation from a rural farm and forest society into a diversified modern industrial economy.