In terms of geographic dimensions and demographics, Finland is not an impressive country.
This fairytale land of more than 188,000 lakes and coniferous forests (over 78 percent of the country’s total area is covered with woodlands) is only 338,145 square kilometers in size, with a total population of just 5.4 million inhabitants.
But in terms of economics and political will, Finland is a force to be reckoned with.
This little Nordic country that started off as a Swedish province and then became an autonomous grand duchy — first of Sweden and then of Russia — before declaring its independence on Dec. 6, 1917, has always been a scrapper when it came to defending its sovereignty. (During World War II, it successfully defended its independence through carefully orchestrated diplomatic cooperation with Germany, and it resisted subsequent invasions by the Soviet Union, albeit with some loss of territory.)
And in the following half century, Finland managed to transform its rural agricultural and forestry-based society into a modern, export-oriented economy with a diverse portfolio of sustainable industries and a per capita output equal to that of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
In 1999 — with one of the highest per capita incomes in the European Union — Finland became the only Nordic state to join the euro single currency zone.
Thanks to a strong commitment to public education, health and innovation, Finland ranks as the third-best performing economy in the world (right after Switzerland and Singapore), according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, and has one of the most skilled labor forces.
In fact, according to the London-based Legatum research institute, Finland today ranks as the 12th-most open, stable and efficient economy worldwide, and it is the second-largest knowledge-based economy in Europe (just behind Ireland).
So what does all this have to do with Mexico?
To begin with, as a part of the comprehensive free-trade and strategic partnership agreement signed 1997 between the European Union and Mexico, Finland offers ready access to Mexican businesses looking to establish commercial and economic ties.
And according to Finnish Embassy figures, combined bilateral trade between the two countries is currently $700 million annually, with Mexican exports to Finland accounting for $300 million of that total.
Between 1999 and 2012, Finnish companies invested more than $676 million in Mexico.
Although Finland’s largest single investor in Mexico, Nokia, sold off its shares to a U.S. firm four years ago, total accumulated Finnish investment still amounts to about $250 million.
There are more than 30 Finnish companies with capital holdings in Mexico, 12 of which are manufacturing goods.
Finland is also an important partner for Mexico in terms of global issues and international political cooperation.
As Finnish Ambassador to Mexico Roy Kennet Eriksson pointed out during his speech at a reception to mark his country’s 99th anniversary earlier this month, Finland and Mexico have worked closely in international forums such as the United Nations on climatic change, social equality, women’s rights, children’s rights and indigenous peoples’ rights.
And as Finland and Mexico celebrate their 80th year of bilateral diplomatic ties, Helsinki has launched an extra push to jumpstart two-way cooperation even further.
In October, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sililä paid an official visit to Mexico along with a delegation of leading Finnish entrepreneurs, and last spring a mission of Finnish parliamentarians came here to booster cooperation with their Mexican counterparts.
Last year, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö paid a five-day state visit to Mexico.
Finland, which is a world leader in environmental conservation, is also helping Mexico in its fight against ecological degradation.
Earlier this month, that country’s agricultural and environmental minister, Kimmo Tiilikainen, attended the international biodiversity summit in Cancun, and in January, Eriksson said, former Finnish President Tarja Halonen will come to Mexico to participate in a conference on sustainable development.
Finland has likewise shared its tree-husbandry expertise with Mexico through a $7 million academic exchange and consulting program launched in 1982.
For 13 years, Finnish scientists, technicians and advisors worked with their Mexican counterparts to produce literally thousands of documents on soil analysis, climate studies, water resources and appropriate harvesting techniques to help Mexico develop its own forest industry into a well-honed and self-sustaining sector.
Cultural exchanges between Mexico and Finland abound, and Eriksson said that as part of his country’s centennial celebration in 2017, his government will be sponsoring a series of additional cultural and artistic events in Mexico.
“This year has been an extraordinarily active one [in terms of two-way cooperation] and the bilateral relationship between Finland and Mexico has reached a historical high,” Eriksson said.
Finland is doing its part to foster binational cooperation.
Finland is already an important partner for Mexico and the potential to increase mutually beneficial cooperation clearly exists.
Finland may be a tiny country of just 5.4 million people, but it is an economic dynamo and close friend to Mexico that should not be overlooked.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]