The Trade Minister of Saudi Arabia is currently visiting Finland at the invitation of Minister Ville Skinnar. Skinnari was also in Saudi Arabia a while ago.
There has been a lot of flying between Finland and Saudi Arabia during the past week.
First, the Minister of Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari (sd.) visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar last week for three days.
This week, Saudi Arabia’s trade minister Dr. Majid AlKassabi is in Finland from Tuesday to Friday.
However, it is a coincidence that the ministers now meet each other twice in a week.
The trip of the trade minister of Saudi Arabia to Finland had already been planned for longer, the unit manager of the Middle East unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Riikka Eela tells.
– Then it happened that Minister Skinnar was asked to be a panelist at an event in Riyadh. Yes, the ministry wondered if it was funny that they meet so often. However, the event was a good place for networking, so it also became an export promotion trip, he continues.
Saudi Arabia is Finland’s most important export destination in the Persian Gulf region.
However, according to the human rights organization Amnesty, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is dire. Freedom of assembly and expression is heavily restricted, women’s rights are poor and the death penalty is still in use.
In addition, human rights defenders have been given fake sentences in an unfair special court and torture of detainees is common, Amnesty expert Anu Tuukkanen says.
However, according to Eela of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a bilateral discussion on human rights with Saudi Arabia. The EU is also active in this matter.
So what is the business between Finland and Saudi Arabia now?
The visits just happened to be consecutive. Skinnari went to Saudi Arabia primarily because of the panel discussion. The visit of the trade minister of Saudi Arabia to Finland had been planned for a long time.
The Minister of Foreign Trade, Ville Skinnari, was in Saudi Arabia last week because he participated in the Future Investment Initiative panel. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both countries want to promote trade between the countries, which is why the trip to Saudi Arabia had been planned for some time.
Saudi Arabia has many ambitious future projects, as they too have recognized the need for an energy transition, among other things. They invest a lot, and that makes them interesting partners for Finland, says Eela.
– Finland has expertise for which they have a need and demand. They wouldn’t come to visit Finland otherwise, he says.
How are human rights considered with Saudi Arabia?
Skinnari did not meet human rights activists separately on the trip, but such meetings are more the domain of the foreign minister. However, Finland holds discussions on human rights whenever there is a reason, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assures.
Minister Skinnari did not meet human rights activists during his visit, as the purpose of the trip was to promote exports, says Eela.
However, the fact that Skinnari does not meet with human rights activists does not mean that Finland does not hold bilateral discussions on improving human rights, he continues.
– However, it is not actively brought to the public. Human rights issues are also high on this government’s agenda, he reminds.
According to the human rights organization Amnesty, it is somewhat problematic that Finland has an active connection with Saudi Arabia. However, Amnesty does not call for boycotts, expert Anu Tuukkanen says.
– If Finland decides to meet the leadership of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia’s considerable human rights problems must be brought up at the event. These discussions should be goal-oriented, i.e. in addition to promises and fancy phrases, something should really be done about human rights problems.
Finland must also consider its own role in various projects, for example by ensuring that human rights impacts are thoroughly assessed and that trading does not cause future human rights violations, he continues.
Saudi Arabia is a religiously very conservative country that has opened up a bit more in recent years. For example, women only got the right to drive a car in the country in 2018. The World Politics Everyday program from 2018 examines how big reforms the country is ready for. You can listen to the program below or on Areena.
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