Interview with H.E. Ms Anja Zobrist Rentenaar, Ambassador of Switzerland to Finland

Trade between Finland and Switzerland has developed positively during the few last years. How is the development of our trade relations in the coming years? Read about interview which Finnish goods and services would have demand in Switzerland and which Swiss ones in Finland.

Trade between Finland and Switzerland has developed positively during the few last years. How do you see the development of our trade relations in the coming years?

The bilateral trade relations have been solid with total trade stable over the last few years. We see growth potential for several reasons: Firstly, our bilateral relations – be it economic, political or cultural – are characterized by respect, trust and understanding, all important elements for a successful business relationship. Secondly, Switzerland is like Finland, is part of the EU internal market with freedom of movement for persons, goods and services. Thirdly, both countries are frontrunners in research and innovation and figure in the top ten of the latest IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking. And lastly, Switzerland and Finland have an excellent education system from primary school to university.

We see positive developments in various services and tech branches. The latter is very much due to the start-up fair SLUSH, where the Embassy and the Swiss Innovation and Export promotion agencies, have been actively involved in the past few years. Since 2015, we have had a trade promotion office in Stockholm, which covers all of the Nordic countries. We are also looking forward to working with the new Team Finland member, who recently took up his position at the Finnish Embassy in Bern.

Which Finnish goods and services would have demand in Switzerland and which Swiss ones in Finland according to your opinion? (if you want you can speak only about Swiss goods).

Traditionally, there has always been a demand for industrial machines and services in both countries. Swiss pharmaceutical companies are quite successful in Finland, as well. There is great potential for Swiss and Finnish companies to cooperate, for instance within digital health, since both countries have complementary skills and competencies in this field. We also see a potential for design and fashion companies, as well as outdoor brands in both countries.

Which kinds of start-ups communities you have in Switzerland – if a Finnish start-up company would like to start doing business in Switzerland, is there any support for foreign start-ups? If not – you can concentrate on describing the start-ups in Switzerland?

There are several start-up clusters in Switzerland, which are mainly centred around the leading universities, ETH in Zürich and EPFL in Lausanne, as well as the traditional pharma “hub” in Basel. Also, the other regions that have higher education and research institutes show a natural clustering of start-ups. Start-ups, which relocate or co-locate to Switzerland, i.e. register their start-up as a Swiss company, can apply for various coaching and support programs that are offered, for instance by Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation agency.

Life during and after Covid-19 – which kind of support Swiss and foreign companies can receive in Switzerland? How the companies see the future?

Switzerland’s support strategy for its economy is based on three pillars: maintaining jobs, safeguarding wages and ensuring the liquidity of companies. To this end, three main measures were adopted:

1. To prevent dismissals in the private sector, the so-called short-time compensation scheme was widely applied. This scheme covers 80% of the wage costs of the reduced workload.

2. A compensation scheme for the loss of earnings was introduced for people who are in quarantine, parents who had to look after their children during the school closure or self-employed workers who need to close their businesses or who are affected by the cancellation of certain events.

3. Switzerland introduced a credit facility, which mainly aimed at granting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) a very fast and non-bureaucratic access to interest-free loans of up to 10% of the company’s yearly turnover, limited to USD 550’000.

The overall support measures are of historical size. The potential fiscal impulses for 2020 amount up to USD 34 billion and another USD 45 billion are provided as guarantees for loans taken out by Swiss enterprises.

Uncertainty remains very high and it is therefore difficult for companies to make predictions about the future.

Please, tell your personal aims during your time as an Ambassador in Finland.

Our two countries look back on a long-standing relationship characterised by mutual respect, understanding and "like-mindedness" in many areas. My priority during my term as Ambassador to Finland, will be to further strengthen established relations and cooperation in all sectors. This includes future sectors that are at the heart of the scientific and technological change that will shape the world of tomorrow, such as digital health, artificial intelligence, green tech or sustainable urban planning. These sectors offer promising perspectives for exchange and cooperation between our two countries.

Christmas is coming. Some of us have a tradition to buy Swiss chocolate as a present – how would you describe the Swiss way of enjoying the Christmas holidays?

Christmas brings back memories of snow, Christmas carols, sitting by the fireplace, and long and happy meals with my family.

We start the Christmas season in Switzerland with the visit of the Swiss Santa, called Samichlaus, on the evening of December 6th. He comes from the woods with a helper called Schmutzli and a donkey to carry his bag. He does not have flying reindeer and doesn't slide down the chimney. He simply knocks on the door and hands out chocolates, peanuts and mandarins to the kids (depending on their behaviour during the past year). He does not bring gifts, this is reserved for the Christkind on December 24th or 25th.

In the days leading to Christmas, almost every Swiss family bakes several batches of Christmas cookies and so-called Grittibänze, sweet, bread figures. We don't have a typical Joulupöytä in Switzerland, although ham is quite popular with us as well. But somewhere between Christmas and New Year, most Swiss families would have a fondue. Whether Cheese or Chinoise, forks are dipped. And of course, we eat chocolate, lots of chocolate.

The Christmas tree is put up on Christmas Eve and is lit with real candles. This usually makes the non-Swiss members of my family a bit nervous, which is why we always keep a bucket of water ready in the corner. The candles are lit on Christmas Eve (when the presents are being opened) and on New Year's Eve (for good luck). The tree is kept in the living room until January 6th, when we celebrate the Three Kings Day with a Three Kings cake in the shape of a crown of sweet buns. A miniature plastic king is hidden in one of the buns. Whoever gets the piece with the king inside, becomes king (or queen), gets a paper crown and can rule over the day. This tradition is especially popular with the children.

No matter how you’re celebrating the holidays this year, I wish you all a safe and merry Christmas and a "guete Rutsch" (good slide) into the New Year!

H.E. Ms Anja Zobrist Rentenaar
Ambassador of Switzerland to Finland

Contact person for questions:
Anne Hatanpää,
The Finland Chamber of Commerce
anne.hatanpaa ( a )