Opening address by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Finnish-Iranian business seminar in Tehran on 25 October 2016

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My Spouse and I are delighted to be in Tehran today. This is our first visit to your beautiful country and the first visit by a Finnish Head of State to the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

It is my pleasure to open this Finnish-Iranian business seminar. Today´s event comes as a fine continuation to the successful business seminar held in Helsinki in May this year, in which the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Zarif, participated. As you may recall, the first Finnish-Iranian business seminar was organised in Tehran in December last year.

During my visit, I will discuss important international political issues with President Rouhani, such as the situation in Syria and Iran’s role in helping to bring stability and peace to the Middle East. However, our seminar today is all about business.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action completed in July 2015 was an important milestone, which opened up new opportunities in our bilateral relations and business cooperation. I am convinced that this deal will promote nuclear disarmament and offer more opportunities in international trade for Iranian companies.

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Throughout its long history, Iran has been known as a gateway between the East and West. In the 16th and 17th centuries, merchants from Europe travelled to the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Semnan to trade with their counterparts from the Far East. It is fair to say that Iran was a center of global trade centuries even before anyone spoke about globalisation. In those days, the Silk Road was the route that connected people from different continents.

Today, we are witnessing the rebirth of the Silk Road – although without camels or caravans. Today´s Silk Road is digital and runs along rails and highways. Iran is again becoming an important trade hub – and not just between the East and West, but, as we see today, between the North and South as well.

Some 30 years ago, Iran – together with Japan – was one of our main trading partners in Asia. The potential clearly exists to regain that level of cooperation. Iran is rich in natural resources. You have a highly skilled labour force, including hundreds of thousands of well-educated engineers and businessmen who are an invaluable asset in international trade. 

I believe that Finland can regain its position as an interesting partner for Iran in many fields. The members of the high-level business delegation that has accompanied me from Finland represent some of the most advanced Finnish innovations and technology. Our business delegation covers sectors such as environmentally clean technologies, which is also known as cleantech; energy efficiency; the bioeconomy; the Finnish wood and paper industry; ICT and health technology. You will hear more about these companies during this seminar.

The companies and their technologies and products are well known and highly appreciated all over the world. Some of them have already been on the Iranian market for more than 40 years, while others are new to the market. The common denominator between them is their commitment and aspiration to support Iranian business in its return to the global market and integration with the world economy. There is potential for our countries to engage in a classic win-win situation.

I am also fully aware of the remaining obstacles to trade between our countries. The issue of banking and money transfers must be solved. A working group has been established between Finnish and Iranian private banks and the countries’ central banks with the purpose of solving the problem in question.

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I have been delighted to note that during the last three years we have expanded our contacts in several fields in addition to business. This year has been a milestone in our cultural relations. Your great national epic, Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) was published in the Finnish language for the first time. Cultural relations play an important role in increasing understanding between people. Culture helps us to gain a greater understanding of each other. 

Today, my spouse and I also plan to visit Park-e Mellat. This is a park where you can find a small piece of Finnish culture, in the very heart of Tehran.  The Finnish monument, Palm Grove, which was donated to the City of Tehran 41 years ago, was renovated last year by Tehran Municipality. The sculptor, Ms. Eila Hiltunen, was one of our internationally renowned artists. Her works can be seen in many cities around the world. 

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I hope that these two days in Tehran will provide you with a good opportunity to meet with representatives of Finnish companies, establish contacts and take concrete steps towards enhancing trade and economic cooperation between our two countries. 

I encourage you to seize this opportunity and take full advantage of the seminar and to enjoy a delicious lunch as well.