Growing Swedish interests keep envoy on her toes

HELENA Sangeland knew she would be in for a tussle when she chose Malaysia for her maiden ambassadorial posting.  

Twenty-seven other Swedish diplomatic colleagues vied to fill the post last August. 

As it turned out, the Swedish Foreign Ministry settled for Sangeland, who was serving as counsellor at her country’s mission in Vietnam.  

Things have been settling in nicely for the mother of two, who is out to prove her capabilities as head of mission.  

“I wanted to stay within the region and my first choice was Malaysia. Nature and wildlife has always intrigued me and compared to Vietnam’s densely populated areas, Malaysia has a wealth of these.  

SWEDISH PRODUCT: Sangeland at the wheels of her official car, the Volvo S80. Volvo is Sweden’s largest maker ofcars, trucks and buses. — STARpic by AZHAR MAHFOF

“I have been very well received and am happy to be here,” she said in an interview.  

Her introduction to Malaysia began on a high plane. Soon after arriving, she accompanied the Yang diPertuan Agong and the Raja Permaisuri on a three-day visit to Sweden, which covered the industrial city of Goteburg, Sangeland’s hometown.  

“But the schedule was so hectic that I had no time to even drop by my home,” quipped the lady envoy, who arrived here direct from Hanoi. 

Sangeland’s decision to opt for a Malaysian posting was mainly motivated by Sweden's great business interest in Malaysia, symbolised by the almost 90 Swedish enterprises operating here. 

“The big Swedish names are already here. The challenge now is to get more of our SMEs to consider the Malaysian market,” she said. 

Famous Swedish names here include IKEA, which maintains its warehouse for Asia Pacific in Malaysia, Volvo, Electrolux, SAAB, SKF, Scania, Autolive and Sony-Ericsson. 

Volvo is Sweden's largest maker of cars, trucks and buses, while Autolive manufactures safety products such as safety belts for vehicles. 

Scania, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles, trucks, buses and marine engines, has invested RM50mil to set up its regional hub in Bukit Jelutong, Shah Alam, and upgrade its assembly plant in Port Klang. 

Sweden is also a supplier of defence equipment to Malaysia. Besides 14 advanced Swedish water jets for coastal surveillance purposes, 85 Swedish-made troop transport wagons are also in use here. 

Four Swedish defence firms - SAAB, Ericsson, Ducksta and Bofors - participated at the recent Langkawi International and Maritime Exhibition.  

Sweden, a technologically-advanced country renowned for its environmental safeguards, has also offered to assist Malaysia in biotechnology, environmental technology and information technology. 

Against this vibrant backdrop of things, it's definitely great guns going for Sangeland, whose burden has been made lighter with the opening of a Swedish Trade Council office in Kuala Lumpur last September. The council is tasked with identifying interesting areas of co-operation in trade. 

“This is a tremendous opportunity to expand our trade ties, and to encourage more of our firms to use Malaysia as a regional base. The trade council has been very active, and several Swedish firms have already signed up to survey the local market. 

“For example, Etac, which develops a wide range of home health care products and equipment for the disabled elderly, will distribute its products to hospitals via a local agent in March,” she said.  

The pace is so hectic that Sangeland's diary is fast filling up– spilling over well into 2007. Among the major events being planned are a Swedish design exhibition themed “Improving Life – the Design of Swedish Innovations”, which will showcase a range of Swedish industrial design products, in March next year. 

“It will be a huge exhibition. Products to watch out for will include a self-operating vacuum cleaner, anaesthetic mask for children, baby sling, cap for cancer patients, welding helmet with liquid crystal visor, and functional work clothes,” she said. 

In February next year, the exact replica of an 18th century Swedish ship, The Gotheburg, will sail into Malaysian waters. This is an event that the envoy is eagerly looking forward to. 

“Back in those days, the ship used to ply between Sweden and China carrying Swedish raw materials like timber and iron, with the cargo worth the whole of Sweden's GDP. From China, the vessel returned with cargoes of tea, porcelain, textiles, medicinal plants and metals. 

“The replica has embarked on its maiden expedition to several countries and Malaysia will be one of its stops. The ship is a symbol of how Sweden has progressed as a trading nation,” she said. 

The hard trade facts aside, Sangeland is also out to promote Sweden as a tourist destination to Malaysians. 

Her mind will be very much on how ticket sales to Stockholm are doing at the ongoing Malaysia Airlines Travel Fair. (MAS flies direct to Stockholm enroute to New York). 

And this was her impressive sales pitch: “There is so much to do in Sweden, besides the glorious shopping. During the winter, you can check into the ice hotel in Kiruna and enjoy the ice-bars, which serve icy cold drinks. There are also sleighs pulled by dogs, ice-fishing, winter golfing and skating on frozen seas and lakes.” 

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