Estonia’s small but its trade ambitions are not

| January 5, 2014 | 0 Comments
Tallinn’s port has world-class facilities.

Tallinn’s port has world-class facilities.

2013 was an exceptional year in Estonian-Canadian relations, as President Toomas Hendrik Ilves made the first Estonian state visit to Canada in May. One of his focuses was to reaffirm the importance of good political relations and co-operation on transatlantic issues, trade and education.
On the trade side, there is room for improvement. Canada is Estonia’s 31st largest trading partner as its 23rd largest export market and 40th largest source of imports. Estonians trade more with neighbours and partners in Europe and for Canada, our market may often seem too small.   But as always, perspective is key. Estonia is part of the Baltic Sea region, a market that unites more than 100 million consumers. The Baltic Sea region has many pre-eminent characteristics: open economies, positive growth, excellent international connections, a well-functioning infrastructure, vibrant business communities, highly educated citizens and a strong work ethic. In addition to the closely integrated EU member states, this region also includes parts of Russia bordering the Baltic Sea.
Estonia is one of the most direct and favourable transit corridors between developing Eastern markets, Europe and North America. Its capital, Tallinn, is one of the largest ports on the Baltic Sea, and large investments in infrastructure have brought its facilities to international standards. Co-operation between the ports of Tallinn and Halifax already exists.
Estonia’s primary exports to Canada are petroleum oils and gases, phones and other telecommunications equipment, elevators, escalators, conveyors, food products, beverages and medical and measuring equipment. Estonia buys audio and signalling equipment and agricultural and forestry machines, as well as sawn timber, leather and pelts.
Estonian industry has been strong in machinery, but our future with be determined by our software and internet-based services. There, our small size can be an  advantage in finding creative, effective and innovative solutions.
Potential co-operation in information technology arose recently at high-level political meetings in Ottawa and Toronto. There are more start-ups per capita in Estonia than anywhere else in Europe and Estonia has high-performance teams with innovative ideas in Tallinn, Tartu, London, Silicon Valley and Delaware.
Estonian start-ups have introduced ideas now used worldwide. Erply, for example, makes cloud-based low-cost electronic point-of-sale software for retail stores. Transfer-wise is an online currency exchange service that lets ex-pats, foreign students and businesses transfer money wherever needed, at the lowest possible cost. Mobile One has rapidly become a global leader in mobile payments and parking technology. It was among the first to develop technology that allows users to pay for parking using a cellphone. Others include GrabCad, a collaboration platform for mechanical engineers, ZeroTurnaround, Fortumo and Kinotehnik.
Estonia’s most famous tech company, however, is Skype, whose technology was developed by four Tallinn programmers. Music fans will know Kazaa, an application used to exchange MP3 files, while Playtech, listed on the London Stock Exchange, is a big name in online gambling software and bases its largest development centre in Estonia.
Canadians could benefit from many Estonian innovations. For example, the X-Road, the backbone of Estonian e-governance, has become a notable export. With a single card, Estonians can log into and manage their taxes, health records, banking and financial affairs. They can register a new company online in less than 15 minutes and vote in municipal and national elections. Nordic neighbours and other European states are now considering the system as a blueprint for secure and reliable e-government strategies. The province of Quebec has also shown interest and a pilot project may follow.
According to a recent report by the OECD and European Commission, Estonia leads a list of 30 countries in implementing e-health services. Our secure systems ensure complete patient health records are available to doctors, regardless of their location in Estonia.
What many may not know is that TopConnect, one of Estonia’s nominees for its business-of-the-year award, does not export machinery, but rather telecommunications services that are provided in 67 countries, including the U.S. The owners of the company live and work in Toronto, yet its TravelSim service hasn’t yet found success in Canada.
The creative industry is another area to explore. Canada’s cultural exports, including opera and jazz, Cirque du Soleil and Robert Lepage’s Far Side of the Moon, have been well received in Estonia and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design and the Estonian Academy of Arts have a co-operation agreement. In addition, Estonia’s Trash to Trend, the first industrial upcycler in the world, has developed a niche service by finding uses for fabric leftovers in the fashion industry.
Finally, I must mention the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU. While the Canadian media might suggest CETA is no more than a cheese, pork and beef agreement, its promise of mutual recognition of qualifications, trade in services and intellectual property rights are key for Estonians, who are more interested in offering new ideas and technologies than selling cheese.

Gita Kalmet is Estonia’s ambassador to Canada. Reach her at (613) 789-4222.

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Category: Diplomatica

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Gita Kalmet is Estonia’s ambassador to Canada. Reach her at (613) 789-4222

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