COUNT Sweden out of the anxiety surrounding President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy pivot — Stockholm is set to send in its largest delegation of businessmen raring to do business in the Philippines.
And there’s more: Sweden is also set to reopen its embassy in Manila after shutting it down in 2008 because of budget cuts, recognizing the importance of trade with the Philippines which has become one of the region’s fastest-growing economies.
With the success of Swedish brands such as clothing retailer H&M in the Philippine mass market, others like home accessories and furniture chain Ikea and Volvo Buses are not far behind, said Harald Fries, Sweden’s ambassador-designate, in a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times editorial team on Tuesday.
No Swedish company has become hesitant to do business in the Philippines despite the controversy over the President’s foreign policy stance, he said.
“Actually, there are more and more companies signing up,” Fries said.
One of the Swedish businesses about to move in is the defense contractor Saab Group, which is scheduled to inaugurate its office at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City on November 9.
It is reportedly in pole position to secure a deal to sell its JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft to the Philippine Air Force.
Other companies have expressed interest in infrastructure, energy, and disaster response and relief.
“The concern [about the Philippines]is there but more specifically on the human rights situation, and I haven’t heard from the business sector that this translates into [loss of interest in]doing business,” Fries said.
Swedish businessmen “know the fundamentals here” and the noise about the Philippines will not affect their business or investment plans, he said.
“When I read the papers here, some chambers of commerce have expressed that if this continues, it could have an effect on business interest. But I haven’t seen it in my conversation with [Swedish] companies,” the Swedish diplomat said.
Next month, Sweden’s biggest-ever business delegation to Manila, led by Swedish Minister of Enterprise and Innovation Mikael Damberg, will be in the Philippines. The visit will coincide with the reopening of the Swedish Embassy in Taguig.
Fries said the delegation will include Atlas Copco, Ericsson, Scania Group, SEB, Swedish Match and Volvo Buses. Their mission is to promote trade and investment exchange with the Philippines, he said.
The Swedish Embassy in Manila, which was closed in 2008 because of severe budget cuts following the global financial crisis, will be reopened on November 8 to strengthen trade and investment promotion and policy dialogue, Fries said.
“We recognize the favorable economic development [in this country]and we saw a lot of potential in increasing trade and investment and person-to-person, tourism and academic exchanges,” said Fries.
The number of Swedish tourists to the Philippines jumped by 73 percent to 23,000 between 2009 and 2015, he noted.
Swedish tourists love Philippine beaches, Fries said, and the tourist volume could expand further if the quality of tourism infrastructure improves.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said the Philippine government welcomes the return of the Swedish Embassy.
“It will be a big opportunity for the two countries to improve bilateral relations in different areas of cooperation,” he told The Manila Times.