Russians Discover Ease in Finnish Market
Published: December 25, 2013 (Issue # 1792)
The Russian businessmen were baffled. No matter how hard they tried to hint clearly that they were ready to grease the palm of the Finnish bureaucrat in order to get the construction permit needed to build a housing project, he did not seem to understand.
And they at first did not understand when they eventually got their permit, on time and having only paid the bureaucrat the official fee.
“This person had everything in his hands to amass a fortune, but he did not take a dime for himself,” was the reaction of the Russian businessmen, according to Stepan Obraztsov, the head of SKTS, a company that organizes promotion projects and business trips. “Moreover, the official put on a pair of rubber boots and personally went to inspect the construction site, which was another hair-raiser for the visiting investors,” Obraztsov said.
The story is illustrative of the pleasant surprises waiting for Russian businessmen who head across the border to address the Finnish market and get a foothold in Europe.
The Transparency International corruption index released last week confirms the attraction. Finland was ranked third while Russia is in 127th place, up from 133rd a year ago. And the overall business climate rating helps explain the trend. Finland was ranked 12th in the last World Bank Doing Business rating while Russia struggled to go up to 92nd position from 111th where it was in 2012.
The existing ties between the countries are quite tangible. According to the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce, Russia is Finland’s biggest trade partner. Finnish companies have made direct investments totaling some 10 to 12 billion euros into Russia. More than 600 Finnish companies are already active in Russia and together employ more than 50,000 local citizens.
But Russian investment into Finland has been a lot more modest, with just more than 850 million euros ($1.1 billion) channeled into the country’s economy over the last ten years. Finland is working hard to change that balance.
The effort to make Russians feel at home in Finland is immediately noticeable to passengers disembarking at the Helsinki Airport after the 1-1/2-hour flight from Moscow. They might even have to look twice to be sure they have landed in a foreign country.
Some signs in Helsinki Airport, which itself is not very much different from the modernized Sheremetyevo, are duplicated in Russian.
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