Interview with H.E. Ms Agnès Cukierman, Ambassador of France in Finland

Finland’s main exports to France are mechanical and equipment goods, paper and paper products and transportation equipment while metal and metal products often trail a bit behind. France as well as Finland are both interested in promoting climate change, circular economy, smart cities and new forms of mobility.

Could you describe the trade between Finnish goods in France and French goods in Finland?

France was Finland’s 7 th supplier and 7th client (latest available figures for 2020). The biggest share of French exports to Finland is usually transportation equipment, followed by capital equipment goods. Chemical goods and food represent about the same percentage i.e. one tenth of the total. This is somewhat counter intuitive for a general public who still sees France (and rightly so!) as the country of good food and wine and luxury cosmetics and perfumes.

Finland’s main exports to France on the other hand are mechanical and equipment goods, paper and paper products and transportation equipment while metal and metal products often trail a bit behind.

One must always bear in mind that between industrial countries, and particularly in the EU, a lot of trade stems from companies’ decisions and value chain specialisations. For example, while some years France exports Airbus planes, following Finnair’s orders, some other years Finland will export cruise ships. In addition, Valmet’s Uusikaupunki factory produces cars for Mercedes, some of which also find their way to our country. Conversely, French cars represented 7% of new registration in Finland in 2020.

I would like to point out that trade figures must also be seen within a broader background including investment and cross country portfolios.

About 150 Finnish companies and subsidiaries are located in France, Nokia being the largest, but most of the major Finnish groups are represented, among them paper and paper product companies ( UPM, Ahlstrom Munskjö) and capital equipment goods (Kone, Kone Cranes, Metso, Wartsila, Ensto) Altogether they employ around 13 000 people, Nokia being by far the biggest.

France has around 100 companies represented in Finland with roughly 10 000 people on the pay list. French companies are much more present and diverse in Finland than one may expect. They range from construction materials (Loxam bought Ramirent, Saint Gobain is a big player in different type of glasses used by industries), electrical devices and equipment (Schneider, Sonepar, Rexel) or digital equipment and security (a subsidiary of Thales prints Finnish ID Cards while Airbus defence and space provides land communications solutions for security and safety agencies) vehicle leasing services (ADL) maritime transportation (CGM recently bought Containership).

Most of these are not household names so the general public does not always relate to the international strengths and positions of our companies, both in the Nordics abut also in the world. For instance, French banks and Investment funds (BNPParibas, Amundi, Ardian) have a larger share of company financing, professional investment services or capital in some traditional or new Business than is acknowledged.

How do you see the future of our bilateral relations ?

Business is always adapting to new challenges and looking for new inroads. France as well as Finland are both interested in promoting climate change, circular economy, smart cities and new forms of mobility.

Early 2020, a sizeable Finnish delegation accompanied minister Lintilä to France and quite a few areas of potential cooperation are expected to materialize in the coming years, including in areas of common European interest like hydrogen technology, electrical batteries and a consortium for the future 6G technology.

The French companies Neoen and the Finnish company Prokon have developed a good partnership regarding renewable (wind) energy and Valorem, another French company in renewable energy is also very active in Finland.

Artificial intelligence is a good area for collaboration and a partnership has been signed between the Finnish Center for Artificial intelligence and the French DataIA Institute, focusing on AI and neuroscience on one hand, and machine learning and signal processing on the other. The University of Paris Saclay, to which this center belongs, is among the leading world universities in terms of publications on AI.

What are your views on the future of collaboration in high tech and new eco systems ?

France and Finland are both committed to R&D and concrete steps to support our collaboration.

France has a long standing recognised « savoir faire » in research and development with 300 000 researchers and 875 000 engineers and a very attractive tax credit for R&D. In fact many foreign companies have recognised this, more than 80% of foreign companies located in France included this aspect in their decisions to invest in France. Among others, the Finnish company Kone Cranes recently located its AI research centre near Lyon.

Our vibrant eco system includes 10 000 start ups of which one third are in the Paris area. The largest campus in the world for start-ups is located in Paris, « station F ». It hosts over a thousand innovative new companies, one third of which works in AI.

French companies have been present for many years at SLUSH, the premium European get together between budding innovative hi-tech start-ups and investors, both financial and corporate. In 2019 a French Tech stand hosted 16 French start –ups interested in interacting with the other participants. Actually a Fintech company, located at the above mentioned Paris start up campus Station F (Pi Eversend) was the winner of the 2019 SLUSH pitch competition. In 2020, 19 French companies took part in webinars and exchanges set up within the new SLUSH model.

What support has been given to French companies, particularly start-ups and hi tech ones to ride over the pandemic?

With the Corona pandemic, many companies have suffered. Different forms of help and loans have been earmarked by the French government to make sure they can survive in a difficult and protracted situation. I will not describe here all the various form of supports but a Solidarity fund has benefited to more than 1,7 million companies, State guaranteed loans have given to more than 600 000 companies and a partial unemployment scheme has also been implemented. In addition, the 100 billion euros French national recovery programme has been split into 3 big areas, greening of the economy, resilience and competitiveness and finally skills and social and territorial cohesion to prepare for the future. For example, the French government has decided to put 7 billion euros for R&D at large, 7 billion in the digital sector and 11 billion to develop various key technologies.

But not all sectors were impacted as we know and more than 21 000 jobs were created in the digital sector. 2020 was still a good year for start –ups in France, they managed to raise 5,4 billion € in capital from markets ( 3,7 in venture capital and 1,7 in growth equity) . This embassy will be happy to provide information and links to French Tech sites for any further information.

What are your personal aims during your time in Finland?

Every ambassador’s aim is to get to thoroughly understand the country where s/he is posted as well as the people living there. When the pandemic is over I intend to discover as many regions and cities I can, to visit companies, big and small, and to host or take part to business meetings or events. This is the only way, in my view, to understand the strengths and needs of the economic and scientific communities in Finland and be able to identify what our two countries can bring one to each other. My door will always be opened to anyone wanting to build a project in cooperation with France.

Questions Ms. Anne Hatanpää, Finland Chamber of Commerce
Answers H.E. Ms. Agnès Cukierman, Ambassador of France in Finland (photo attached).

H.E. Ms Agnès Cukierman, Ambassador of France in Finland