One of the first countries to have established diplomatic relations with Pakistan, Finland is now looking to improve bilateral trade and cooperation between the two countries.
Finland, a welfare state with one of the lowest levels of corruption and one of the highest degrees of transparency in the world, opened its embassy in Pakistan in 1951 but had to close it in 2012 due to budgetary constraints, Roving Ambassador of Finland, Rauli Suikkanen, told The Express Tribune.
The ambassador was speaking at a reception he hosted in connection with the Finland’s National Day, which falls on December 6, at a local hotel on Wednesday. The reception was attended by the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed, diplomats, members of civil society and business community among others.
The shutdown was part of the Finnish government’s budget cuts, which also included the closing down of some 11 embassies and consulates around the world, the ambassador said.
Suikkanen, who now operates from Helsinki but visits Pakistan regularly, said the embassy closure is temporary but he could not say when the embassy would be reopened.
In the meanwhile, trade relations between the two countries are beginning to improve, Suikkanen said.
Stora Enso, a Finnish paper manufacturer, has recently set up a factory in Kasur and Vaisla, a high-tech equipment manufacturer, is one of several Finnish companies that have been working in Pakistan.
“Trade is too little at the moment but there is a huge potential for increase,” Suikkanen said.
To provide impetus for growth in bilateral trade, Finpro — the national trade, internationalization and investment development organisation — is expected to open offices in Pakistan soon.
“Finpro’s plan to open offices in Pakistan will be finalised early next year,” the ambassador said. “The offices, which will probably be opened in Karachi and Lahore, will offer focal points for Finnish companies that want to look at business opportunities in Pakistan.”
Finland is also one of the ten countries that support the Multi-Donor Trust Fund. The fund, administered by the World Bank, is financing reconstruction and development work in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan.
The ambassador said Finland is an advocate of democracy and supports the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan. He said the presence of democratic institutions had helped Finland in the early days of its sovereignty. Exactly 96 years ago, on December 6, 1917, Finland’s parliament adopted a Declaration of Independence that allowed the country to gain freedom from Russian rule.
The Nordic country shares a border with Russia — the land route distance from Finland’s capital Helsinki to St Petersburg in Russia is just less than 400 kilometers — and it had been part of the Czarist Russian empire for over 100 years.
But a degree of autonomy during that period had allowed the Finns to develop democratic institutions which took over once Finland gained Independence, said Suikkanen.
The ambassador termed signs of maturity in Pakistan’s political environment and the transition from one democratically-elected civilian government to another in 2013 as “historical.” He said political stability is good for Pakistan’s image in the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.