Small but influential nation to highlight all its strengths

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2008, 12:00am

Country to further expand links with Hong Kong and the mainland with promotional events and even better business, writes Martin Donovan

Danes in Hong Kong may be relatively few in number but their impact is big - and the country's consul general is happy in his belief that the nation's influence here will expand.

For Jorgen Mollegaard and the 1,100 or so other Danes living here, this year will be an important one with a member of the royal family competing at the Olympic equestrian competitions, and a series of events being planned to promote Denmark.

A food festival in August for instance will underline the huge influence this nation of around 5million people has had in marketing successful global brands ranging from beer and bacon, to dairy products and confectionery. Representatives from Denmark will also be driving home their country's prowess as a leader in eco-friendly technology. In Denmark itself, the success of Danish companies in this region will be highlighted.

'For us, the main goal is to tell Danes how important Hong Kong is as a gateway to China rather than companies trying to go straight [to the mainland] without beginning in Hong Kong with a lot of help from the Hong Kong government. That assistance is very important for us,' said Mr Mollegaard, who has been stationed in the city for about six months.

He said there were about 95 Danish subsidiaries operating in Hong Kong and he hoped to see this number double over the next four years as companies compete for a larger share of the mainland market.

Denmark's influence here is nothing new and neither is it confined to the contents of a certain green can. Mr Mollegaard previously served in Hong Kong 20 years ago and still beams with pride as he remembers a visit by the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

'She wanted to have lunch with two of the most successful European business leaders here - and they were both Danish,' said Mr Mollegaard, who was a consul for commercial affairs at the time. 'I think she was impressed that Denmark had these brand names here. One of them, Hans Michael Jebsen, is still doing a fantastic job for many brands.

'Denmark has always been a trading nation, so it's in a good position here in Hong Kong and there have always been good relations between the two. Danish design, especially in furniture, is becoming more popular, but our number one strength is the environment. We really want to be involved in the fight against air pollution.'

He said the Hong Kong government purchased three wind turbines from Denmark, which is the world's leading manufacturer of the huge windmills that have become a familiar sight in countries developing alternative energy sources.

'With the air pollution here, I feel that this is really a key area for Denmark to provide help and expertise,' the consul general said. 'In Denmark, 20 per cent of energy supply comes from wind turbines and our goal is to make that 30 per cent within 20 years. In a way, we are world experts at this and are very conscious about renewable energy.'

Meetings have already been held with Hong Kong government officials, as Danish wind turbine makers, such as Vestas, are 'very eager to do a lot in China'. A Legislative Council delegation also visited Denmark last year to learn more about environmental protection and renewable energy.

Denmark also applies environmentally friendly practices to its most valuable export commodity - minks.

Overall exports to Hong Kong in 2006 totalled 6.5 billion Danish kroner (HK$10.7 billion), according to consul figures. Of this, furs accounted for just over 4 billion kroner.

'Though most of the furs worldwide are traded via London, we are a centre for selling furs and are by far the biggest exporter,' the consul general said. 'With proper animal husbandry, the minks are bred on farms and culled humanely as with other agricultural animals, and without cruelty.

'One Copenhagen company hosted a lunch during the recent fur expo here for 300 people each day for four days,' he said. 'It shows how important the market is for Denmark.'

Another staple export is pork products, which were worth 156 million kroner in 2006, while telecommunication and other technical equipment amounted to just over a billion kroner. Overall exports from Hong Kong to Denmark totalled 3.1 billion kroner.

Key to opening markets for Danish companies has been the royal family, and it's not only today - the birthday of Queen Margrethe II - that Danes have felt grateful for the ambassadorial role. 'Members of the royal family have been quite willing to assist. It opens so many doors if the head of the country leads the way,' Mr Mollegaard said.

'Queen Margrethe II comes from a long line of Danish monarchs stretching back to the good old Viking days when Gorm the Old was the king,' Mr Mollegaard joked. 'He was the first in this long line of kings and queens. To be honest, we are very proud of our royal family. The Danish queen is very good in pointing out to us Danes if we are forgetting our sense of responsibility to each other and to the world. At 6pm each New Year's Eve, when her speech is broadcast, we look forward to this homely advice.'

Princess Nathalie, the younger daughter of the queen's sister, Princess Benedikte, will travel to Hong Kong with the Danish dressage team. Also in August there will be a fashion show featuring the best in Danish designs.