Speech by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Tavio at the Europe's fastest growing region – Southeast Europe –event 17 April 2024

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to welcome you all to this Team Finland event today.

I want to especially welcome the visiting government agency and Chamber of Commerce representatives from Southeast Europe, Helsinki-based Ambassadors representing these countries here in Finland, and our own Ambassadors and their teams serving in Finland’s embassies in the region.

I also want welcome Ms. Charlotte Ruhe, representing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

In today’s program, we have three excellent Finnish companies presenting their business approach in the region.

We will hear about a few business cases in the region: There will be a presentation by Nokian Tyres’ on their 650-million-euro factory investment in Romania. Also, we will hear about K. Hartwall’s logistics solutions and Mirka’s world leading surface finishing solutions that are used increasingly in the region.

These three companies offer an excellent example of Finnish high-tech knowhow and sustainable as well as competitive approach.

Finland has close and active bilateral relations with the countries in the Southeast Europe. Trade in both directions has increased steadily in recent years.

The total annual trade in goods and services between Finland and the countries in the region is about 2.5 billion euros.

There are about 150 Finnish subsidiaries in the region, which employ more than 10,000 people. Additionally, dozens of Finnish companies are represented in the region by their partners.

I am happy to note that in the past year alone, there has been several Finnish investment cases in the region.

For example, Finnish companies have invested in the renewable energy and in the ICT –sector. We are also welcoming investments from the region to Finland.

Dear Friends,

Finland views our foreign policy in a comprehensive way: international economic and commercial ties as well as trade, development and technology policies are all elements of Finland’s strategic foreign policy.

With changing geopolitics, we have seen rising protectionism and rising state aids, distortions in international supply chains and increased economic and technological competition.

In this operating environment, we want to ensure that Europe maintains its long-term strategic competitiveness.

The best way for us be competitive and to be influential players globally is to ensure that we have a dynamic and truly working single market in the EU, and that there is fair competition and that we have a better ability to conclude trade agreements.

Open and rules-based trade and investment remain fundamental for building up the resilience and diversification of our economies.

Openness to partnerships and different forms of cooperation continue to be the cornerstones of future development and economic well-being.

I want to stress that these are very much needed in the changing geo-economic environment when developing economic security in the EU and addressing harmful dependencies.

Due to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, in the current security and geopolitical landscape, we need to enhance unity and work even more intensively to integrate economically in Europe.

A stable Europe and in future an enlarged European Union would hold more political and economic power, and be a more competitive partner globally.

The Western Balkans’ place is in the EU and integration of our partners into the Single Market is a key step in the enlargement process. Finland strongly supports their path towards membership of the European Union.

At the same time the process needs to continue based on full completion of membership criteria, with rule of law reforms and a well-functioning market economy paving the way to the Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to the IMF's forecast, the GDP growth in Southeast Europe will be 3-4% per year in the next five years. At the European level, these are very good growth figures.

Continued growth is supported by various EU initiatives. The active role of the financing institutions such as European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is very important.

In order to help European companies enter new markets, Global Gateway is a priority for us. It is an important tool to strengthen cooperation with our partner countries by addressing their needs and interests.

Our aim is to improve the collaboration with the private sector within the framework of the Global Gateway. Global Gateway can offer opportunities for Finnish companies to obtain financing in order to expand their businesses in new and growing markets. I hope Global Gateway will be a viable and con crete European initiative for Finnish companies.

As part of Global Gateway, the EU's Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans works to accelerate twin transition. Its goal is to interlink the region further with the EU. This plan mobilizes up to €30 billion in investments, including €9 billion in EU grants.

In addition, hopefully by this summer, the new Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans will become operational. The new facility is set up for the period 2024-2027, and the instrument will be worth €6 billion.

This new funding will be conditional on the Western Balkans’ partners fulfilling specific socio-economic and fundamental reforms, which will help to accelerate their EU integration.

For Finland, it is important that the new instrument will work within the enlargement process to advance key Rule of Law reforms in the region. Finland has a long history in promoting rule of law and fight against corruption.

One concrete example of a new sectoral opportunity is in critical raw materials. The EU has offered enhanced integration to the Western Balkans with the EU’s single market through developing strate-gic partnerships on raw materials.

In addition to the EU support for the Western Balkan countries, there is about 70 billion euros worth of support to the EU countries in the region in the forms of multiannual structural funds and recovery and resilience funds.

Finnish companies have a lot to offer in the many projects financed by these instruments, especially in the spheres of digitalization, education and energy.

Also, many countries in the region are neighboring countries of Ukraine. Some synergies might be found in relation to the reconstruction of Ukraine.

Dear Friends,

I sincerely encourage Finnish companies to do more business in Southeast Europe, which is an attractive growth region with already increasing trade and investment activity.

As tools, we have also Finnfund and Finnpartnership, which can be used in some cases.

Our Team Finland network serves you in the region and supports you. Although Business Finland does not have offices in the region, there are six Finnish Embassies.

For example, our embassies provide market information. In addition, they identify direct contacts and provide networking services.

Today you have the opportunity to directly engage with them.

In addition, several Helsinki-based Ambassadors and other Southeast European colleagues are here, providing an opportunity to establish direct contacts to the region.

I am looking forward to increased business and trade relations between Finland and Southeast Europe.

Thank you!