In line with the Finnish government program, Finland is now strengthening its economic ties with Central Asian countries, as they are potential trading partners in a region of strategic importance. The market potential for Finnish expertise in Kazakhstan is significant, especially from the perspective of the forest industry.

Rich in natural resources, Kazakhstan actively seeks solutions for energy production and sustainable resource management. Finnish expertise in forest regeneration, nursery production, wildfire prevention, and mechanized logging can open opportunities for cooperation between the two countries, benefiting the domestic forest sector, research, and education. Last autumn, representatives from the Finnish and Kazakhstani forest sectors convened at the countries' first joint sustainable forestry forum.

In early April, a bilateral economic commission meeting between the governments was held in Astana, where the Finnish Forest Industries Federation participated as the Finnish representative of its sector. Prior to the meeting, investigations by the European commission in March confirmed the illegal transit of Russian birch plywood to Europe through Kazakhstan and Turkey. While Kazakhs understands the EU's reaction, they argue that inspections have unjustly targeted legal actors as well. Nonetheless, they have a strong desire for domestic production development and interest in cooperation with the EU. It may now be possible to borrow the words of a representative from a domestic plywood manufacturing company: 'Birch plywood, truly Made in Kazakhstan, sounds very good indeed.'

Establishing a Solid Foundation for Trade Relations

Thus, there is a need for strengthened cooperation. In the current geopolitical situation, business operations emphasize careful groundwork, understanding of the customer, compliance with sanctions, and collaboration to prevent sanctions circumvention. We must remember the delicate balance of the current situation. While we open doors for collaboration, every effort must be made on the export front to ensure goods do not benefit the war economy of a belligerent country. Import, on the other hand, must not rely on the transit of illegal products through third countries to reach EU markets.

Finnish forest industry should carefully consider the opportunities for cooperation with Kazakhstan. Currently, forest industry exports to the largest country in Central Asia have fluctuated between 13 and 15 million euros over the past two years, representing about 0.1% of the industry's total export value. The main products have been cardboard, furniture, and paper. Comparing the situation to the peak year of exports in 2007, when the export value exceeded 27 million euros, there is potential for export recovery. Logistics undoubtedly present their own challenges, for which lasting solutions are being sought.

The economic commission meeting provided a good opportunity to promote bilateral relations and expand cooperation in various fields. Seventeen Finnish companies, including representatives from the forest industry, attended the event, representing key industrial sectors for Finnish exports. As a testament to the interest in our products, a concrete inquiry about certain product producers with their contact information was taken back home. And along the way, a piece of plywood manufactured by one of our member companies was found.

The Finnish delegation was led by Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Ville Tavio. The trip was facilitated by EastCham Finland, a part of the Team Finland network, with arrangements involving the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Finland in Kazakhstan. Once again, thanks to the organizers of the event, the participating delegation, and our hosts in Kazakhstan.