Speech by Minister Soini at the European Australian Business Council

Speech given by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Timo Soini at the European Australian Business Council (EABC). Sydney, 1 March 2016.

 Members of the European Australian Business Council, Ladies and gentlemen,

Being a member of parliament myself, it is a real pleasure to be here in Parliament today. We are in the Strangers´ Dining Room, but in some ways as "a political stranger", I feel right at home. In democracies, such as yours and ours, Parliaments are the voice of the people. Governments may propose, but in the end, it is Parliaments that decide.

It is a personal pleasure to talk to, and with, members of the European Australian Business Council. The Council is a key player in advancing Australian-European economic relations. It has helped to put Australia on the business map of Europe and Europe on the business map of Australia. And I hope you will continue to make the case for both sides for even closer economic ties in the future.

That is in the interests of the member states of the European Union - Finland and Estonia included. And I am sure that it is in the interests of Australia and its states, New South Wales in particular.

Our joint visit to Australia and New Zealand takes place in this spirit. We seek to advance our mutual economic interests. That is why we both have with us business delegations. They are among us now. The Finnish businesspeople here represent some of the most innovative companies in Finland. Many of them are also present globally. Many already do business in Australia. As a result of this visit, I hope that old business ties will grow even stronger, and that new ones will come along. We have much to offer to each other.

Yesterday was very encouraging. We had a busy day in Canberra. The innovation forum hosted by our governments was well-attended. Good discussions took place. Contacts for the future were established. We now have a much clearer picture of what Australia´s new National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) is all about. There are definitely opportunities for fruitful collaboration. They will be pursued.

The next big step on the European-Australian agenda is conclusion of the free trade agreement. Both Australia and the European Union have been busy negotiating these agreements with important trade partners. Australia has done so with China, Korea and Japan bilaterally, and with eleven other countries in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilaterally.

The EU has recently concluded a deal with Canada and is now negotiating also politically important transatlantic trade and investment deal with the United States (TTIP).

It is thus high time that the EU and Australia do the same. Reaching a comprehensive agreement will of course take some time. The interests of both sides have to be satisfied. The balance must be right. But the first step has now been taken. Both sides are committed to move forward. I am very happy for this first step.

For Finland, free trade is a pillar of our prosperity. Our economy is export-driven. Or to be more exact, it is driven by participation in international value chains. Some forty percent of our GDP is at stake. Maintaining an open international trading system is a core interest for Finland.

Today here in Sydney we have already had a good meeting with Victor Dominello, this state´s Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation. Tomorrow we will meet him again. That will be at a business networking event hosted jointly with the State Government and companies. I hope to meet many of you there.

New South Wales is a natural fit for Finland. We are roughly the same size in population (alright, you´re a bit bigger). We both have versatile economies closely connected with the rest of the world.

Many Finnish companies already have a presence here. My only worry is that not so many Australian companies have a presence in Finland – yet. This is an opportunity not to be missed. There is already some Australian direct investment in Finland, for example in renewable energy and in mining. We would like to see more of it. Finland welcomes and is a good target for foreign direct investment.

And that brings me back to the European Australian Business Council.

I am very pleased that the next EABC business mission to Europe will visit Finland. With all due respect to our bigger and more southern EU partners, there is more to Europe than just them. And I am glad that the EABC agrees. The visit will be brief, only a day and half. But quantity will be amply compensated for by quality. The mission will bring to Finland some of the top people in Australian business. Many of them come from this state. They will meet politicians like me. They will meet our business leaders and innovators. They will also have a chance to participate in the European Business Leaders´ Convention known as Northern Light.

Helsinki, our capital, is too far south to observe the Northern lights properly. But we can promise you the next best thing: Northern Light, Finland´s response to Davos.

Lest you think that our visit to Australia is all business, let me remind you of one thing. We are Foreign Ministers. We both value highly our political ties with Australia. Yesterday in Canberra our discussions with Julie Bishop and other ministers covered a wide range of issues. We face many common challenges. Afghanistan, Syria, Russia, terrorism, illegal immigration, to name a few. On many issues we see eye-to-eye. This visit has deepened our understanding. It has strengthened the many ties that bind us.

The Estonian Embassy in Canberra was officially opened yesterday. It is housed in our Embassy building. Co-locating Embassies is just one aspect of our close relations. As is this joint visit of ours to Australia and New Zealand. Finland and Estonia are friends. We are neighbors. Our languages are closely related. Our histories – and futures – are intertwined.

As Western democracies we stand together with Australia. This visit to Australia has left me more confident than ever about that. That is a good feeling.