‘Cheapest’ label won’t help Pakistan increase exports: Finnish businessman
- He remains positive that Pakistan will exit current economic crisis
Finland Pakistan Business Council (FPBC) Chairman Wille Eerola said on Thursday that the biggest problem facing Pakistan economy is low exports and the subsequent current account deficit and “this will persist unless the country stops projecting its products with the unique selling proposition of being the ‘cheapest’”.
Despite the country’s efforts to reduce imports before the beginning of the ongoing fiscal year, Pakistan’s trade deficit stood at $21.3 billion during the first eight months (July-February).
“In Finland, nobody cares if you are selling the cheapest products,” Eerola told Business Recorder. “They would care if you are selling something unique. Pakistan needs to find its niche.”
Eerola, who is also Honorary Consul General of Pakistan to Finland, criticised the country for failing to promote itself in the world, especially in destinations like Europe.
“Finnish are among the most knowledgeable people in the world and they know nothing about Pakistan. This proves that something is amiss.”
“Their perception only gets debunked when they come here and see the potential of Pakistan,” he said.
‘Pakistan needs a paradigm shift in its mindset’
Eerola was flanked by Ezzat Natsheh, an official of Finnish company KONE, a global leader in the elevator and escalator industry, during the interview.
Natsheh, who is a Jordanian, said Pakistan must change its mindset.
To summarise Natsheh and Eerola’s take on Pakistan’s flawed business approach, they called upon the country to do away with its ‘seth’ mindset that motivates businessmen to transfer decision-making of a company to family members. By doing this, they kill the chance of entrepreneurial skill development in the country, they said.
“This is the mindset keeping Pakistan behind. Despite the fact that Europe may have an edge in producing top quality chocolates, I bet nobody can beat Pakistan in producing top quality mango chocolates because the country grows the best mangoes in the world,” said Natsheh, who is the Business Development Manager of KONE in the Middle East.
“You can always find a niche. You can always add value.”
‘Businesses don’t like surprises’
In 2022, KONE had annual sales of 10.9 billion euros with an employee count of over 60,000. KONE operates in Pakistan through a distributor.
When questioned if KONE was considering investing in Pakistan, Natsheh responded with a clear no.
“When a business looks at a country for investment, the first thing they see is if they can take profits out of the country to pay dividends. That is not possible in Pakistan.”
“Businesses need clarity, stability and most of all, they don’t like surprises and there are many in Pakistan,” he said.
He said that KONE would want to manufacture in Pakistan but the current circumstances won’t allow it to do so.
“If there was clarity, stability and no surprises, Pakistan will be a beneficial destination for businesses to invest in.”
“The availability of manpower, skills, scale and the geographic location of Pakistan is ideal. It has a port in Karachi. What’s so special about Dubai is that it harnessed its good location not just into regional but a global hub. Karachi’s port is far older than that of Dubai but Dubai had the vision and they built it.”
“There is a lot of advantageous manufacturing here. There’s all Central Asia and Eastern Europe,” he said.
Wille Eerola said that Pakistan should uplift its image for the global companies to invest here, which unfortunately it hasn’t for years.
Meanwhile, Eerola said that international businesses are interested in Pakistan despite the fact that it was going through an economic crisis.
Talking about Finland’s economic crisis in 1992, he said that the country came out strongly and cited the example of Nokia, which became the biggest mobile phone company by 1998.
“Pakistan will come out of this crisis just as Finland did however, I don’t see any similarities to Finland because hotels and supermarkets are full,” he said.
He saw strong relations between Finland and Pakistan and added that ties were strengthened during such times.
FPBC has recently organised business summits in Islamabad and Karachi to help expand the bilateral trade and business between Pakistan and Finland.
More than 20 Finnish companies have participated in these summits, which are also attended by Pakistani business persons.