India, Finland and the opportunities for growth

India, Finland and the opportunities for growth

With a diplomatic relationship stretching over seven decades, India and Finland have continued to grow their friendship and bilateral ties. Collaboration in research and innovation and investments by both sides have only strengthened the bond further, with both countries seeking to expand their trad...

With a diplomatic relationship stretching over seven decades, India and Finland have continued to grow their friendship and bilateral ties. Collaboration in research and innovation and investments by both sides have only strengthened the bond further, with both countries seeking to expand their trade and business footprint in terms of products and technologies. Kimmo Siira, Counsellor-Trade and Investments, Embassy of Finland, New Delhi, elaborates further in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN. How do you view the India-Finland bilateral relationship when it comes to contributing to the real-estate and infrastructure sector? India is growing immensely, and is putting a lot of emphasis on the new budget. For the next 25 years, the plan for the Government is to grow infrastructure. Entering these markets is a three-level operation – first, there needs to be collaboration at the Union level. Second, concrete actions must be taken in states, as done with Maharashtra and the MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation). The end of the third level is where companies start doing business together. It is a little bit different from the European ways of doing business. But people usually forget that India is a union of states. It is not just one city you have to appeal to; you have to go and meet these people, introduce companies to them to look at the products. So, that is how I approach the Indian market. How has the Embassy of Finland been supporting Finnish companies to come to India and contribute to this industry? The biggest service we can do is to save time for the company - be it by doing intensive market research, seeking out potential partners and stakeholders, or through finding the best suited ways for market access. I was an energy project developer before I joined the government. So, I have been with the private sector. And usually, the pre-development phase takes quite a long time. Not all the companies can afford it and can do it around the world. In my job, we talk to the governments, make sure the basic trade infrastructure is there at the state level and then we start discussing to understand more clearly what is going on before companies’ can enter the market. For example, we talk a lot with state development corporations, ministers, secretaries of energy in different states, business associations and so on and so forth. We are an information business more than anything else. What opportunities do you see in Maharashtra right now for Finnish companies in terms of infrastructure? If you look at the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, one can imagine how much concrete it will need. It is about understanding more what’s happening, the timelines, what cities can be tapped and what cities are growing. Mitigating climate change and reducing carbon footprint starts from the cities, and Finnish companies have been involved in both areas for quite some time now which does give us unique insight on the sheer variety of opportunities available. Maharashtra is also a great base for Finnish companies as several of our big names are headquartered in the state, especially Mumbai. India is focusing on its 100 smart cities. Do you see that as a big opportunity for Finnish companies? Yes, absolutely. But the problem is that while they have been announced, you don't really know which ones are going forward. Again, my job is to get more clarity so we can bring those products in. And because of COVID, some projects have been cancelled, some have been postponed. That is currently the biggest hurdle I encounter. We start to look at how energy is being introduced, how mobility is going to be structured. There are so many levels to make smart cities; it's a whole ecosystem. All in all, I’d say that with the Finnish skill and Indian scale combined, it could be an opportunity for both nations to make great strides together in the area. A good example of how we’ve done it as a country is the Six City Strategy - a strategy for sustainable urban development carried out by the six largest cities in Finland: Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu. The strategy is nationally very significant: the participating cities are home to some 30% of Finland's population. These cities serve as test beds for sustainable urban development, employment and competence related projects and usually are conducted between each other, companies, residents and R&D&I organisations. How would you rank India in terms of ease of doing business? Going to foreign markets is never easy. By the sheer size of the Indian market, it is already intimidating. You need to do your homework first, see where your product fits in. You don't need to conquer the whole thing. It's okay to do business in specific cities, start making a difference there and eventually grow. Finland is working towards carbon neutrality. What inspiration should India take from this? Whatever we do has to be translated for the Indian context. We have done studies. Now, we want to share that information. It needs to be put into perspective on how the Indian market functions. There is no copy-paste solution; it has to be put into context. For agriculture, the culture is totally different in Finland than in India though the fundamentals are pretty much the same. I come from Delhi; it is difficult to even breathe some days owing to the pollution. That is why we talk about institutions like NITI Aayog or the National Institute of Advanced Sciences. It helps us contextualise what the local government is looking to implement. Today, we are talking about green products contributing to the building industry in India. In the construction infrastructure space, which sectors do you see maximum opportunities for Finnish companies? Finland is looking quite deeply into the energy sector – not just reducing energy consumption but also transmitting energy, the whole chain. In the future, it will be producing products with higher value like synthetic methane, synthetic ammonia from hydrogen production. So, that is definitely a big thing. Rajasthan and Gujarat sit on a goldmine when it comes to European hydrogen markets. There is a lot of land. Land is cheap, solar energy is available. There are some hiccups. But I think once those bottlenecks are gone, we will have a smooth sailing. How is India contributing to development in Finland? That is an excellent question. Because I look at the big five Indian ICT companies; they are the ones who will actually bring the ‘smart’ into smart grids. It is definitely a collaboration between Indian and Finnish companies. And I know that the large Indian companies are looking to establish sustainability in Finland, because we are the world leaders in this field. How do you see this relationship strengthening in times to come? I see immense potential there. India will grow tremendously in the next 25 years. All one needs is a good understanding and a strong strategy on where to enter and how to do it. And like I said, that’s my job.

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