Foreign Trade

Finland Table of Contents

Trade in agricultural commodities, consumer products, and services had been relatively limited, but exchanges with the outside world were crucial for industry. Not only had the forest industries grown largely in response to foreign demand for wood and paper, but the metal-working industry had also taken off only under the goad of postwar reparations deliveries to the Soviet Union. By the mid-1980s, exports accounted for half of all industrial output and for as much as 80 percent of the output of the crucial forest industries. Similarly, imports of energy, raw materials, and investment goods remained essential for industrial production. The development of export-oriented industries had driven Finland's postwar structural transformation, indirectly affecting the rest of the economy. Industrial competitiveness would largely determine the economy's overall health into the 1990s.

During the postwar period, Finnish exports shifted from lumber and other raw materials to increasingly sophisticated products, a change which reflected the increasing diversification of the country's economic structure. The forest industries continued to dominate exports, but, while they had accounted for about 85 percent of total exports in 1950, they accounted for only 40 percent by the mid-1980s. The relative shares of different forest exports also shifted. Sawn timber and various board products accounted for more than one-third of total exports in 1950, but by 1985 they had fallen to only 8 percent. Exports of pulp and paper fell more gradually during the same period, from 43 percent of exports to about 30 percent. Pulp and cardboard, the main exports of the chemical wood-processing branch, declined in importance, while specialized paper products incorporating higher value added, such as packing material, printed paper, and coated paper, grew in importance.

Taking the place of forest products, exports of metal products grew rapidly during the postwar period from a little over 4 percent of exports to about 28 percent. Here, too, exports of more sophisticated manufactured goods grew faster than those of basic products. By the late 1980s, basic metals accounted for about 20 percent of metal exports, ships for about 25 percent, and machinery and equipment for about 20 percent. Advanced products such as electronics and process-control equipment were gaining on conventionally engineered products. The chemical industry had exported relatively little until the 1970s, but by 1985 it had grown to account for about 12 percent of exports. By contrast, the textile, confectionery, and leather goods industries had peaked at over 10 percent in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then they had fallen to about 6 percent of exports by the mid-1980s. Minor export sectors included processed foods, building materials, agricultural products, and furs.

Up to the 1970s, Finland tended to export wood-based products to the West, and metal and engineering products to the East. By the mid-1980s, however, Finnish machines and high-technology products were also becoming competitive in Western markets.

Finland's imports had consisted primarily of raw materials, energy, and capital goods for industrial production, and in the late 1980s these categories still accounted for roughly twothirds of all imports. The commodity structure of imports responded both to structural changes in domestic production and to shifts in world markets. Thus, the heavy purchases of raw materials, energy, and capital goods up until the mid-1970s reflected Finland's postwar industrial development, while the subsequent period showed the influences of unstable world energy prices and Finland's shifts toward high-technology production. Imports of investment goods climbed from about 15 percent in 1950 to almost 30 percent in the late 1960s and early 1970s, only to fall again by the 1980s to about 15 percent. Foodstuffs and raw materials for the textile industry accounted for about half of all raw material imports during the 1950s, but by the 1980s inputs for the chemical and metal-processing industries took some 75 percent of raw material imports. World energy prices had strongly influenced Finnish trade because the country needed to import about 70 percent of its energy. After rising slowly until the early 1970s, the value of oil imports had jumped to almost one-third of that of total imports in the mid-1970s, then had fallen with world oil prices to about 13 percent by the late 1980s.

Like its export markets, Finland's import sources were concentrated in Western Europe and the Soviet Union. The country usually obtained raw materials, especially petroleum, from the East and purchased capital goods from the West.

Finnish service exports had exceeded service imports until the early 1980s. Up until this time, shipping and tourism earnings had generally exceeded interest payments to service the national debt. In the mid-1980s, however, the balance was reversed as the earnings of the merchant marine declined and Finns began to spend more on tourism abroad. Although Finnish businesses tried to compete in these labor-intensive sectors, the country's high wage levels made shipping and tourism difficult to export.

Like other Nordic countries, Finland's trade was concentrated in the Nordic area and in Europe. Unlike the others, however, Finland had, as its most important trading partner, the Soviet Union. During the postwar years, trade with the Soviets had expanded and contracted in response to political developments and market forces. During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet share of Finland's trade, spurred by reparations payments, rose to over 30 percent. However, the following two decades saw this share gradually decline as Finland expanded exports to Western Europe. A second cycle began after the 1973 oil crisis, when recession in Western markets cut demand for Finnish products while the increased value of Soviet oil deliveries to Finland allowed expanded exports to the East. Finnish exports to the Soviet Union rose sharply during the years after 1973, only to fall--along with world petroleum prices--by 1986.

By the late 1980s, the geographical distribution of Finland's trade was moving back to the pre-1973 pattern. In 1986, for example, although the Soviet Union continued to be Finland's single largest trade partner, trade with West European countries, which together accounted for about 61 percent of Finnish trade, was much more important than trade with the Soviet Union. Finland's main trade partners in Western Europe were Sweden, which took the biggest share of Finnish exports, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which supplied the largest slice of Finnish imports. East European countries other than the Soviet Union accounted for only slightly over 2 percent of trade. Non-European countries were responsible for some 19 percent of trade. The United States, Finland's main non-European trade partner, accounted for over 5 percent of Finnish exports and imports in 1987.

As in many small European countries, the postwar trade policy of Finland had been to pursue free trade in industrial products while protecting agriculture and services. During the 1980s, strict quotas still blocked imports of most agricultural commodities (except for tropical products that could not be produced domestically), but liberalized regulations allowed increased imports of services, especially financial services. Most industrial imports and exports were free of surcharges, tariffs, and quotas under multilateral and bilateral agreements between Finland and its major trading partners. Health and security concerns, however, inspired restrictions on imports of products such as radioactive materials, pharmaceuticals, arms and ammunition, live animals, meat, seeds, and plants. With a few exceptions, Finland discontinued export licensing in the early 1960s. The State Granary, however, controlled all trade in grains, while the Roundwood Export Commission reviewed all lumber exports.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress