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Armed with a friendly and open-minded corporate culture, Sweden is often the go-to choice for prospective entrepreneurs and businesses seeking a pilot market for their new products or services. And standing as the largest recipient of foreign direct investment and imports from the UK in the Nordic region, businesses can capitalise on strong ties the two countries have.
Marianne Sandén-Ljungberg, Managing Partner, Mazars Sweden, explains the ease with which UK companies can break into the Swedish market, “Swedish legislation and Swedish industry has made it easy for companies from the UK to establish in Sweden. In addition, the Swedes in general, speak very good English.”
Procedures involved in setting up a business in Sweden are based on a transparent system that aims to nurture the formation of new enterprises, making the process of setting up a business simple and efficient.
In addition, foreign businesses can enjoy and make use of Sweden’s highly skilled and well-educated work force, low corporate tax rates, strong international ties and a user-friendly bureaucracy.
Sweden has a long tradition of environmental awareness and protection, and fully embraces new green technologies and solutions. The country now produces 45 per cent of its energy supply using renewable energy sources and has aspirations to become the world’s first oil-free nation. This, along with a strong awareness of corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues opens up a number of opportunities for foreign investment, particularly within the cleantech industry.
Sandén-Ljungberg says these new industries open up opportunities for foreign businesses. For example, projects such as the European Spallation Source (ESS), a joint European initiative that is “committed to the goal of collectively building and operating the world’s leading facility for research using neutrons by the second quarter of the 21st century”, opens up a number of opportunities for companies that can support such initiatives with innovative products and services.
“Sweden is one of the world's most innovative countries and any ability to support these new innovative industries is one way to succeed in Sweden. Sweden is also one of the countries in the world that is most favourable with regard to the establishment of holding companies,” explains Sandén-Ljungberg.
Sweden’s economy is largely based on foreign trade — the country accounts for two per cent of world trade, while holding just 0.2 per cent of the world population.
Trade policy has traditionally been open and anti-protectionist. This makes the country a popular destination to establish export-oriented industries, with the most popular and important export goods being electronic and telecom equipment, mechanical engineering, transport equipment, pulp and wood, as well as chemical and mineral products.
Sweden’s use of foreign trade is reflected in its international corporate environment. For example, businesses can make an agreement with a Swedish multinational to open up a market place stretching far beyond the confines of Sweden itself. The presence of large multinationals has also created a breeding ground for the development of a large sub-contractor industry that can be particularly useful to companies new to Sweden.
Foreign companies are not obliged to have a Swedish partner when starting up a business within the country, but if they so choose, Swedish partners are likely to be technically sound, scientifically curious and enthusiastic about innovative ideas.
Taking into account this preference for ground-breaking and more technologically led products and services, the areas in which Swedish companies excel and compete at the highest international level are the cleantech, ICT, life sciences, automotive and materials science industries. Industries all viewed as offering the greatest potential for foreign direct investment.
A cheerleader for human rights, gender equality and corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues, Sweden thrives off an honest and sustainable business environment; as one of the least corrupted countries in the world, Sweden is ranked third in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
In a recent interview with Mazars’ NOMAD magazine, Jan Eliasson, former Foreign Minister and Ambassador for Sweden to the United Nations in New York, highlighted the importance that CSR and human rights play in Sweden. Eliasson explains the degree to which human rights protection is embedded within Sweden’s ethos, economically, socially and culturally, and “is at the core of the values our citizens all share.”
CSR is a core function of doing business in Sweden, and foreign companies should view this as an opportunity to carry out responsible and sustainable business that is beneficial to both society and the environment.
Sweden’s forward-thinking and innovative nature extends to policies on gender diversity. A quarter of boardroom posts are held by women and around 25-35 per cent of all management positions are filled by women. This sets the bar high in comparison to most other industrialised countries. Women and men enjoy the same treatment, opportunities and rights in all areas of life, and a well-structured welfare state means that the work-life balance is harmonised to suit both sexes.