Speech by Minister Toivakka at the Asian Development Bank Business Opportunities seminar

Speech by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka at the Asian Development Bank Business Opportunities seminar in Helsinki, 22 September 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to open this seminar on business opportunities offered by the Asian Development Bank.

This event is an excellent opportunity for Finnish businesses to interact directly with ADB experts.  It is an occasion for you to learn more and to present what your companies have to offer.  But more than that, the main theme of today – the private sector's role in development – is something extremely relevant at this moment.

I will look at this theme from two angles, international and domestic.  I'll start with the international side. 

In July, I had the pleasure of attending the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa.  The outcome of this Conference sets out a framework for financing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will be adopted in New York later this week. I will myself have the pleasure to attend the Summit.

What is interesting for us here today is that both the Action Agenda adopted in Addis Ababa as well as the discussions during the conference gave an increasingly important role to the private sector in promoting development. There is a growing notion that aid without an active participation of private companies does not bring lasting and efficient solutions to development issues.  It is businesses – small and large – that create jobs, make investments and generate tax revenue for states.  This means that you, in this room today, have a key role to play. This means also that your role is increasingly recognized in the global development agenda.

But in order for their business to thrive, companies need access to finance, basic infrastructure, a skilled workforce, good governance and the rule of law – in other words, a stable working environment. This is where Governments, Multilateral Development Banks and other international organizations come in. Asian Development Bank, supported by its Members like Finland, is doing an excellent job in providing funding and expertise to Governments in order to make all this happen.  We are your partners.

Then the other side – why is private sector engagement in development cooperation a relevant topic in Finland? It is no secret that Finland's economy is going through a rough patch right now.  Exports, the traditional engine of the Finnish economy, have suffered. We are faced with tough decisions to make our public finance and our welfare model sustainable again.  In this situation, it is more important than ever to look ahead, be creative and seize new kinds of opportunities. 

Our immediate neighborhood has traditionally been the most important – and the most natural – market for our companies.  There is nothing wrong with that.  We should, however, also be bold and look further to countries and regions where economic growth is particularly strong, and where there is a growing demand for high-quality Finnish products and services.  Asia is, of course, an excellent example.

I have personally encouraged a stronger private sector involvement in Finnish development cooperationOur Government is doing its part by providing additional resources to Finnfund, our development finance company.  But Finnish businesses should not overlook opportunities provided by other funding agencies, either.  Multilateral Development Banks, such as the Asian Development Bank, open huge possibilities for our companies. Yet these opportunities – I believe – have so far remained relatively unknown to businesses in Finland.  I hope today's seminar will change that.

I am not speaking for private sector involvement only to promote Finnish business. Our companies also have something very valuable to give, something that will benefit developing countries and their inhabitants. Be it clean energy, water management, health care technologies or finding solutions for efficient administration, our companies have the products, services and expertise that will help spur development in a sustainable way. The high standards of Finnish companies in corporate social responsibility have an impact as well. They can make a positive contribution to advancing the standards and practices of developing countries' own private sector.

With that, I would like to wish you a productive day.  Let's make the most of it – increased private sector participation in development cooperation is a win-win situation for everyone.