HK still an important stepping stone for trade with Sweden

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am


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In 1950, Sweden became the first Western country to forge diplomatic relations with the mainland and trading ties between the two nations date back more than 300 years.

In the early days, Sweden imported porcelain, tea and silk in exchange for timber and iron, and by the 19th century began to export manufactured products to China.

Hong Kong has long been an important trade partner and a stepping stone for Swedish companies to do business with the rest of Asia.

'Hong Kong ticks all the right boxes when it comes to conducting business; it's an open and dynamic society, its business practices are fair and transparent, and it has a strong and effective legal system,' says J?rgen Halldin, consul general of Sweden in Hong Kong and Macau.

Sweden's exports to Hong Kong amounted to US$340 million in the first six months of this year, 10 per cent up from the same period last year, including mainly telecommunications, hi-tech equipment and furniture. But there was a 4 per cent drop in imports from Hong Kong in the first half of this year that involved engineering products and manufactured goods.

As the Swedish Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 25th year of promoting bilateral trade relations in Hong Kong today, it should be proud that trade and investment between the two places is steadily growing and that Hong Kong remains an important trade and business hub for Sweden.

The Swedish community of about 1,000 comprises mostly businesspeople who are active in developing the mainland and regional markets.

Vice-chairman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Niclas M?ttus Olsson, says Sweden's stable and strong economy and its highly educated population and workforce are huge attractions for long-term investors worldwide.

'Whatever we do we do it well, so quality is the prerequisite and that's a huge plus for overseas investors,' Olsson says. 'And we have a very transparent business environment - a handshake is a handshake.

'We are a nation founded on manufacturing goods and thus R&D and innovation are the backbone of our economy.'

Hong Kong and Sweden have a lot in common. Hongkongers and Swedes are both highly efficient, hard-working and entrepreneurial. The societies are similarly open, fair and diverse with a good mix of many different cultures and immigrants who have contributed to the success of the places, Olsson points out.

Swedes also take their job very seriously and are very loyal to their companies. It is quite common for them to stay with the same company for 20 to 30 years.

As Sweden is known for its open, accessible and often informal work culture with an easygoing environment, punctuality and efficiency are highly valued.

'We also dislike conflicts at the workplace and, like the Chinese, we put a lot of emphasis on giving people face and do not like to argue openly,' says Olsson. Hong Kong, he adds, is the gateway to the mainland and the rest of Asia, and will remain an important trading platform for Sweden in the long term because of its neutral position in terms of politics and many other aspects that make doing business enjoyable and easy.

Tourism is also on a growth trend. Last year, 54,590 people from Sweden visited Hong Kong, an increase of 11.8 per cent compared to the previous year.

There are significant educational exchanges taking place. About 200 to 250 Hong Kong students are studying in Sweden and there are 50 and 100 Swedish students in Hong Kong.

Most Swedish universities conduct their programmes in English and they rank among some of the finest educational institutions in Europe. They have plenty of student exchange programmes and award scholarships and grants for overseas students. For Hong Kong residents who want to study Swedish, a three-year certificate course is offered by the University of Hong Kong's School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

There's increasingly close co-operation between Hong Kong and Sweden on the environmental front, with Hong Kong signing a Sustainability Charter with the city of Malmo to strengthen efforts to promote sustainable development and environmental protection.