Basque Government seeks to boost its economic relationship with Sweden

11 May, 2015

    Minister for Economic Development and Competitiveness, Arantza Tapia, stresses that both countries share their commitment to industry. “It is a clear reference model for us”, she stated at the Basque-Swedish Forum held in Bilbao. “I think we can find that collaboration”, confirmed the Swedish Ambassador, Cecilia Julin. Carlos Marcos, Managing Director of the multinational ABB in Spain, pointed out that the Nordic country and Basque Country “have something in common – the importance they give to innovation”. 

 Basque Government Minister for Economic Development and Competitiveness, Arantza Tapia, has advocated increasing economic relations between Euskadi, the Basque Country, and Sweden, and has emphasized that it is a reference model in innovation, demonstrating “that we can manufacture in our own country, remain competitive and create employment, by using technology, being committed to innovation, and produce high added value products and services”.  The Minister made this reflection at the opening of the “Basque-Swedish Innovate to Internationalise Forum: Intelligent Industry”, held in Bilbao on Monday. The Swedish Ambassador to Spain, Cecilia Julin, corroborated the message launched by Arantza Tapia. “I think we can find that collaboration”.

SPRI Group (the Basque Business Development Agency, part of the Department for Economic Development and Competitiveness) took part in organising the event, which was used to consider the challenges of the innovation-internationalisation binomial applied to the industrial sector, based on the experiences and testimonies of Basque and Swedish companies.

 The Minister highlighted that Sweden is the European Union country with the biggest R&D investment, dedicating “3.4% of GDP, three times more that the Spanish State. It is a clear reference model for us”, she emphasized.  “It is a country that shares our commitment to industry. The belief that we can manufacture in our own country, remain competitive and create jobs. By using technology, being committed to innovation and producing high added value products and services.

 She maintained that Euskadi can offer the Swedes that “we are a reliable, well-prepared country with competitive SMEs”, which she linked to commitment to industry- “it has been shown that this is the way” for economic growth – and that ·for decades we have taken technology and innovation very seriously”.

 Ambassador Cecilia Julin explained her country’s growth model. “I don’t know whether there is Swedish innovation but there has been a model that has been successful. We have long innovation traditions, from the wrench created in 1891 to digital platforms like Skype and Spotify”.

Also taking part in the Forum was Carlos Marcos, Managing Director of the multinational ABB in Spain, who pointed out that the Nordic country and Basque Country “have something in common – the importance they give to innovation”.   He underlined that the weight of industry in the Basque GDP is 21%, with plans to reach 25% by 2020, while in Sweden it stands at 26%.

The executive of ABB (one of the largest business groups in Sweden, with 9,000 workers, of whom 550 are located at its two plants in the Basque Country) showed his firm belief in “the fourth industrial revolution, because change is customer-driven. It has never been so easy to be interconnected”. He predicted that the industries of the future will be based on the so-called internet of things, people and services. “We are going to see smart devices to enable us to make decisions about machines”.

 Tomás González, Director of Idom, who has already participated in two tramway projects in Gothenburg and Lund, and is now working on a section of the high speed train, highlighted the transparency of public procurement in Sweden, after indicating that there are 20,000 public invitations to tender this year.  Gonzalez warned that entering the Swedish market requires high level of professionalism. “You can’t go as second tier. I would encourage you to consider the Swedish market seriously and, if you are a reference, it is a great market. Otherwise, you will probably be wasting your time”.

Aitor Cobanera, SPRI Group Technology and Innovation Manager, explained the role of the Basque Government, which “since the 1980s has maintained an active industrial policy” and recalled how 35 years ago, R&D expenditure was “0.001% of GDP”, whereas now it is around 2.05%. “Everything began with the creation of research centres, a policy of major financial support for R&D projects and, since the mid-2000s, diversification into sectors such as bio- and nano-technology”. Cobanera highlighted that the Basque technological parks host 400 companies with 14,000 workers, where “employment has grown even during the recession, with a 12% increase”. The task, he explained, now focuses on developing so-called smart specialisation, the European Union directives that each region focuses on the sectors it is best at. In the case of the Basque Country, Euskadi, advanced manufacturing, energy and life sciences have been chosen.

Finally, Malin Svensson, Manager of the Swedish trade office for Spain and Portugal, said that Sweden “arrived late at the industrial revolution and the only way to be competitive was to be innovative” and that the key to success has been internationalization. “Exports account for 50% of GDP”. Svensson revealed that Sweden’s goals are to be the leader in the Internet of things by 2025 and in the advanced products sector by 2030. This is a strategy that involves developing six areas: “sustainable production, flexible production processes, development of virtual product and simulation, coordination between employees and robots for greater productivity, services-based products and identifying integrated product processes”. 

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