A ministerial visit from Finland to Nigeria this weekend was firmly focused on trade and investment, as Minister Anne Berner was in Abuja on Saturday 10 June, to take part in the 16th Meeting of Nordic and African Foreign Ministers. The meeting, hosted this year by Nigeria, focused on the theme of 'Ensuring Sustainable Development through Trade and Investment: The Africa-Nordic Engagement'.
Minister Berner expressed her delight at this important theme having such a prominent position on the meeting's agenda. She stressed the crucial role of the private sector in promoting sustainable development, and the many complementarities between Nordic and African countries. "Africa is a continent of vast natural resources and human capital, and potentially enormous markets. The mere presence of Nordic and other companies in Africa is a testimony to that potential", she said.
In her interventions at the meeting, Minister Berner put special emphasis on education: "Education is an important factor contributing to economic growth, and an area where Nordic partners have added value. In Finland, we believe that the key to our economic success has been in ensuring high-quality education for all. What is very clear is that girls' education makes economic sense, in addition to being just and fair. Investment in women boosts economic development, competitiveness, job creation and GDP. No economy can afford to ignore such a huge potential."
The Finnish Minister also spoke about the strong Nordic-African relations. What started as traditional development cooperation with a few countries, has developed into something much more. "Today, with ever greater interdependence between Europe and Africa, we in the Nordic countries are expanding our partnership with African countries". She mentioned that the Prime Ministers of the five Nordic countries recently launched an initiative called 'Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges'. The initiative will focus on innovative Nordic solutions for carbon-neutral development, sustainable cities, food and welfare, and gender equality.
Finland had strong presence also at the Business and Investment Forum, which was organized in the margins of the Ministerial meeting. A representative from the Finnish business matchmaking agency 'Finnpartnership' made a presentation to the participants, and was at hand to give information on and discuss the services that her organisation provides, to promote business between Finland and Africa. In addition, Finnish companies, as well as the Finnish trade promotion office in Lagos had sent representatives.
According to the Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria, Ms. Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury, the meeting gave a unique opportunity at high level to discuss important issues linked to trade, investment, peace and development. She added that trade promotion is her main focus in Nigeria. "Last year we had a very successful visit to Nigeria by our Deputy Minister for External Economic Relations, with a business delegation, and I am looking forward to more exchanges and increased trade between our countries. There are many more win-win opportunities, and mutually beneficial trade relations can go a long way in promoting sustainable development, and a better life for Africans as well as the Nordics."
Along with meeting Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, and several other African Ministers, Minister Berner – who, in addition to her Foreign Ministry role, also holds the portfolio of Minister of Transport and Communication of Finland – held fruitful bilateral talks with the Minister of Communication of Nigeria, H.E. Barrister Adebayo Shittu. Both sides were keen to and expressed openness to further cooperation in several areas.
Finland is one of the five Nordic countries that in addition consist of Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. They cooperate closely in the Nordic Council, and have had common labour market and free movement of citizens since the 1950s. They share an economic and social model – market economy combined with welfare state – and are all well developed economies with a strong emphasis on good governance and gender equality.
At the Ministry for foreign Affairs of Finland, Minister Anne Berner is one of three Ministers, with responsibility for Nordic cooperation. She also heads the Ministry of Transport and Communication. She has a strong business background.