Finland to Japan: exploit strengths

by Shinya Ajima

Kyodo News

Finland, recently named the world’s “most prosperous” country, no longer sees economic growth as a reason to feel happy as the global crisis has changed how people value their lives, Finland foreign minister said in a recent interview in Tokyo.

Alexander Stubb, in Japan to meet officials of the new administration, said a prosperous nation or lifestyle has more to do with concepts like education, opportunity and mutual trust than making money.

“Japan and Finland are similar in that we have very few natural resources,” he said. “That’s why we have to play to our strengths, which are education and the services sector.

“A lot of people in the world are starting to look at happiness (and) prosperity from a new perspective,” Stubb said. These are “not only (about) money . . . GDP . . . or the relative wealth of a nation.”

Last month, the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, chose Finland, which has only 5.3 million people, as the world’s most prosperous nation not only in monetary fields but also in various sectors including health, safety, personal freedom and opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Finland was followed by Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark, while the United States, the world’s biggest economy, came in ninth place and Japan finished way down in 16th, though it was at the top among Asian countries.

Stubb said Finland has not been immune to the global economic downturn, underlining that the country, some 50 percent of whose GDP comes from exports, has been greatly affected by the slowdown in other member economies of the European Union.

Citing the country’s dependence on external markets, he said, “The more open the economy is, the better off we are.”

Finland’s economy is expected to contract 5 percent to 6 percent this year before expanding 0.5 percent in 2010.

Despite brighter signs in the global economy, the minister said, “We are going to face the most difficult period,” expressing concern about higher unemployment rates in major economies and pointing to difficult maneuvering to unwind various economic stimulus measures taken by governments and central banks.

Due to the crisis, changes may occur in people’s daily lives, he said, as they will “probably save a little bit more and travel a little bit less.”