Happy country has reasons to smile

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am

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Denmark plays a larger role in Hong Kong life than many people realise. It starts in childhood when many youngsters get their first taste of the construction industry via Lego, which has been a part of growing up in Denmark since the 1930s.

From Lego, youngsters may graduate to Bang & Olufsen, the triumphant conclusion of fellow students Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen's pre-war experimental tinkering with electronics in the latter's attic in Jutland.

Naturally, some Hongkongers can remember when they first tasted the amber nectar encased in a green can bearing Carlsberg's distinctive logo.

The brewery's corporate history has long been intertwined with China's, having exported its first barrels to the Middle Kingdom in 1876, only a few years after it started operations in Copenhagen.

And, of course, given Hong Kong's prominence as one of the premier ports in Asia, it would be strange if Maersk, founded in 1904, didn't have an office in the city, as it is the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world.

Trade between Hong Kong and Denmark is perhaps helped by their having roughly similar populations - just over 7 million versus just under 6 million respectively - and sharing a go-ahead entrepreneurial spirit.

Bilateral trade has risen by nearly 6 per cent in the past five years, and Hong Kong ranks seventh out of Denmark's trading partners outside the European Union, with total trade valued at US$1,83 billion. Jewellery makes up more than half of Hong Kong's exports to Denmark, and toys and games nearly a quarter. Steaming in the other direction, raw fur skins and telecommunications equipment form nearly three-quarters of Hong Kong's imports from Denmark.

Like Hong Kong, Denmark makes up for its lack of natural resources by concentrating on its human resources. Free trade is one of the dominant factors of its mixed economy, while Denmark's labour laws provide a high level of job security.

Co-operatives are quite common in farming, the food industry, dairy production, retailing and wind power generation.

Denmark's wind turbines are one of its most significant industries. The country has access to considerable sources of oil and natural gas in the North Sea and is one of the world's major exporters of crude oil, producing about 260,000 barrels of crude a day. Most electricity is produced from coal, but about one-fifth of electricity demand is supplied through wind turbines. Denmark has long been a pioneer in wind energy and derives about 3 per cent of its gross domestic product from renewable energy technology and energy efficiency, reckoned to be worth about US$9.4 billion.

Denmark has integrated fluctuating and unpredictable energy sources, such as wind power, into the national grid. It is focusing on intelligent battery systems and plug-in vehicles in the transport sector, a hedge against the day when its oil and gas reserves run dry.

Denmark's far-sighted investment in new technology, especially the environmentally friendly variety, and other hi-tech skills has attracted the attention of businessmen in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

A group of mainland investors, representing about 500 Chinese companies that are members of the Aigo Entrepreneur Alliance (AEA), set up offices in Copenhagen, citing the Danish capital as a hot spot for expanding their operations.

'Denmark's strong focus on design and innovation enables Chinese brands to learn from and collaborate with Danish companies to become successful in the rest of Europe,' says Feng Jun, chairman of consumer electronics group Aigo.

'Denmark also provides good opportunities for partnerships with universities and design institutions to develop our brands.'

AEA aims to promote privately-owned Chinese brands around the world, and its members include leading companies within industries such as electronics, maritime, real estate and clothing. Feng says Denmark's healthy investment climate and ease of doing business helped in choosing it as a hub for expanding AEA member companies' European operations.

Anyone who has ever visited Denmark for business or pleasure should not be surprised that the country regularly tops global happiness indexes, including a United Nations survey conducted this month. It's not simply being prosperous that puts its citizens in a good mood. Although political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are also important, what makes Danes so cheery is striking the right balance between work and home life.

To which theory just about every Dane would respond with a raised glass and a hearty 'skal'.