Finland hopes to fill critical gaps in Sri Lankan economy


By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, June 13: Distant Finland, known to most Sri Lankans as the land of the famed Nokia phone, can give Sri Lanka more than just that, said the visiting Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs and Employment, Petri Peltonen.

A leader in Europe in the field of renewable energy, digitalization and education, Finland can fill critical gaps in the growing Sri Lankan economy, Peltonen said in an interview on Tuesday.  

Ten different government to government agreements and four others between private sector companies were signed on Tuesday. They covered a variety of fields including clean and renewable energy, education, digitalization, communication and heath. The Finnish delegation comprised 20 leading Finnish companies.

Asked how the visit, with such a large team and such a significant agenda, came about, Peltonen said that it stemmed from Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to Finland in October 2017. 

"That was the Prime Minister’s first visit to Europe. And yet he chose to visit Finland,"  added Harri Kamarainen, Finland’s new Ambassador in Sri Lanka.

In his meeting with his counterpart in Helsinki, Wickremesinghe sought cooperation in energy, digitalization and education,  areas in which Finland has great expertise.   

And it is not going to be one-way traffic. Finland senses worthwhile prospects for itself in Sri Lanka.

"We follow with great interest the development of Sri Lanka as an important market hub in the Indian Ocean region," Deputy Minister Peltonen said.

According to the European Commission, the quality of Finland’s exports is the highest in the European Union.

" Finnish companies spend a good deal of their resources on R and D," Peltonen said.

Finland could be a model for environment conscious Sri Lanka, he added. According to the Environmental Performance Index, Finland is the greenest country in the world, green in the use of energy and in terms of forest cover. 76% of the land is under forest. Finland is a top ranking country in forestry.  It is second in the Global Cleantech Innovation Index.

Having visited Sri Lanka twice, Peltonen is impressed with the greenery here and understands Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s interest in keeping it green, clean, and safe.

"A comfortable living environment is one of the core values for every Finn. That is something we would like to present to our friends in Sri Lanka," Peltonen said.

On the economic front, Finland’s strengths are based on its high level of education, well-functioning infrastructure, highly skilled use of information and environmentally sustainable technologies.

"Finland’s cornerstones are energy intensive industry and digitalization," the Minister pointed out.

Disaster Management

Finland has developed a high degree of expertise in "critical communication infrastructure" which refers to communication technologies used in disaster anticipation and management. The visiting delegation included a specialist in this field, Peltonen said.

Having faced the tsunami, floods and landslides in the past few years (diasters which had required international assistance) Sri Lanka could use Finland’s  new communication technologies to anticipate, plan and face the consequences of such tragedies.

Production of bio-energy is another critical area in which Finland can help Sri Lanka.

"As an agricultural country, Sri Lanka has bio-waste which can be turned into a source of energy with tried,  tested and very contemporary Finnish technologies, "Peltonen said.

And there is the huge problem of municipal waste. Recently, a mountain of rubbish in Meetotamulla in the outskirts of Colombo had collapsed and injured a number of people.  Following the tragedy, the Lankan government had taken steps to regulate the collection and use of garbage.

Producing energy from the municipal waste is one way of utilizing it and Finland has developed ways of producing power from municipal waste.

Ambassador Kamarainen said that Finland’s education system is one of the most  advanced in Europe and it could offer training to Sri Lankans, Peltonen said.

"It was significant that when he visited Finland last year, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had included in his delegation Education Minister Akila Karaiyawasam," added ambassador Kamarainen.

Ports and maritime technology are other areas in which Finland  has a high degree of competence as it is a maritime country.

"Helsinki is the biggest passenger harbor in Europe and we have developed smart technologies to ensure safe sailing," Kamarainen said.

Increasing Trade

The Ambassador admitted that despite 70 years of friendship bilateral trade is very small. But he was confident  that it would grow.

"We are impressed with the quality of Sri Lanka’s cotton  garments. We are also interested in Sri Lankan agricultural products like fruits and vegetables," he said.

Tourism is another area in which there could be vast change..

"Finns like to come to a tropical country and there are attractions for Sri Lankan adults and children in Finland. Finland is the land of the midnight sun and for kids there is the Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi."

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