Finland: what is its competitiveness?

The Finnish economy is not doing well, regardless of the better-than-estimated growth. Politicians, business representatives and also labour unions talk about Finland having become uncompetitive, especially relative to Germany. This is commonly expressed through a comparision of the (Real) Unit Labour Cost developments. Especially the wage increases in the sectoral collective bargaining rounds of 2007-2008 are frequently blamed for Finland’s downfall.

Recently, I have read all kinds of literature related to trade diversification, export performance and such. It was also nice to discover this website, which can provide a wealth of insight. Basically my thought for this post is: If Finland is so uncompetitive, this must somehow show up in the data. Another issue is: Finland is frequently mentioned as very competitive and high-tech, such as in this article, but does this show up in Finland’s exports?

Regarding the first question:

Export destinations of Finland (1995-2012)

Export destinations of Finland (1995-2012)

The top export destinations of Finnish exports are Sweden, Germany and Russia (followed by the Netherlands, UK, USA and China). That is the ‘macro’ picture. If you look at those individual countries, you will see completely different ‘export packages’.

Finnish exports to Germany (2012)

Finnish exports to Germany (2012)

Half of what Finland exports to Germany is either paper goods or metal goods (this can be steel plates, zinc, nickel, iron pipes etc.). Machines account for nearly 18% of exports. These are typically machines for the German industry to make things (e.g. paper machines, processing machines, lifting machines, …) but it also includes telephones, electrical transformers and electrical motors.

For Finnish exports to Sweden the picture looks quite different:

Finnish exports to Sweden (2012)

Finnish exports to Sweden (2012)

Mineral products is the category code for e.g. oil-based products, like petroleum and refined petroleum. Chemical products also include medicaments.

Finally, exports to Russia look like this:

Finnish exports to Russia (2012)

Finnish exports to Russia (2012)

Again, chemical products, phones, computers and other machinery are a large part of exports, but Russia is also a significant market for Finnish dairy products.

To make the picture complete, I provide a list of the Top-40 export products from Finland (in 2012), in terms of export value (in US$), see below. What I find striking, is that in terms of the classification used by Cafiso (2009) there are only a few high-tech export products in the top-40,  and the top-6 features ‘traditional’ industry products, as in relatively low-tech. In terms of export value, the Finnish paper industry is far from being history.

When we go back to the first question – does Finnish uncompetitiveness show up in the data? – it depends what you look at!! Here are the graphs fror the top-3 products:

Kaolin Coated Paper exports

Kaolin Coated Paper exports

Refined petroleum

Refined petroleum

Stainless steel

Large Flat-rolled Stainless Steel

Strange to say maybe, but depending on the destination and the product Finnish competitiveness does not look too bad. Yes, the start of the Great Financial Crisis is visible in the data in 2008-2009 and from 2011 European demand for two of the three products here is in decline. But that doesn’t mean that Finland is uncompetitive – German exports of stainless steel and kaolin coated paper also declines, especially in Europe.

I think one of the most relevant lessons of these sketches is that in Finland the industries that produce the top-40 products are typically very capital-intensive.  It may be true that Finnish Real Unit Labour Costs are higher than in Germany, but does it matter? Storm and Naastepad (2015) conclude that for Germany (and other industrialized countries) trade is not very sensitive to changes in Real Unit Labour Costs.

This overview of some of the aspects of the Finnish export industries has implications for the labour market relations and what issues are emphasised (either by labour unions, the state or employers). I hope to write more about that in a later phase.


Refined Petroleum $7,571,937,492.43 10.06%
2 Kaolin Coated Paper $5,546,692,160.65 7.37%
3 Large Flat-Rolled Stainless Steel $3,188,856,875.23 4.24%
4 Uncoated Paper $1,896,120,674.00 2.52%
5 Sawn Wood $1,578,749,613.50 2.10%
6 Sulfate Chemical Woodpulp $1,554,623,680.00 2.07%
7 Packaged Medicaments $1,402,117,640.52 1.86%
8 Electrical Transformers $1,397,459,014.12 1.86%
9 Telephones $1,213,812,358.00 1.61%
10 Excavation Machinery $1,141,698,501.29 1.52%
11 Broadcasting Equipment $977,911,850.49 1.30%
12 Papermaking Machines $874,822,111.30 1.16%
13 Machinery Having Individual Functions $821,263,336.80 1.09%
14 Electric Generating Sets $809,612,169.02 1.08%
15 Medical Instruments $789,197,173.22 1.05%
16 Electric Motors $707,507,667.19 0.94%
17 Other Construction Vehicles $652,354,778.80 0.87%
18 Raw Nickel $648,832,883.17 0.86%
19 Raw Furskins $619,987,425.28 0.82%
20 Raw Zinc $602,721,172.66 0.80%
21 Uncoated Kraft Paper $596,906,691.21 0.79%
22 Stone Processing Machines $574,838,607.82 0.76%
23 Plywood $570,319,551.66 0.76%
24 Cellulose Fibers Paper $557,917,828.69 0.74%
25 Cars $529,368,714.55 0.70%
26 Refined Copper $526,786,902.13 0.70%
27 Rubber Tires $522,128,649.04 0.69%
28 Valves $512,834,686.85 0.68%
29 Lifting Machinery $500,867,236.02 0.67%
30 Ethylene Polymers $495,928,852.51 0.66%
31 Passenger and Cargo Ships $456,775,890.54 0.61%
32 Other Uncoated Paper $430,972,171.17 0.57%
33 Electric Motor Parts $428,195,865.56 0.57%
34 Low-voltage Protection Equipment $423,857,644.83 0.56%
35 Flat Flat-Rolled Steel $421,897,577.90 0.56%
36 Coated Flat-Rolled Iron $415,547,511.74 0.55%
37 Special Pharmaceuticals $415,278,848.27 0.55%
38 Computers $411,008,464.22 0.55%
39 X-Ray Equipment $404,066,790.60 0.54%
40 Tractors $401,011,453.94 0.53%

3 responses to “Finland: what is its competitiveness?

  1. Pingback: Suomen talous ja Kiinan talouden muutos | Arjen polku

  2. Pingback: Finnish competitiveness, trade balance and wrong-headed economic policies | Arjen polku

  3. Pingback: Vientivetoinen talousmalli ei tule onnistumaan | Arjen polku

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