Swe minister defends embassy opening in the Philippines

As the Sweden is about to mark a new milestone in its effort for increased engagement with Southeast Asia, a new embassy is opening in Manila, the Philippines. The Swedish Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Mikael Damberg who inaugurates the mission on 8 November 2016 has in Swedish media defended the opening of this media in a time with this country is being heavily criticised for its war against drug trafficking, including accusations of extrajudicial killings.

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“This actually increases rather the need to have a presence there,” Minister Mikael Damberg told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on 5 November. “Things have changed dramatically.”

“Alarming things have happened; we are following this very closely. Nearly 4000 people have died in a fairly short time in some kind of war against drug trafficking and abuse in the country. There are suspicions that it is sanctioned by the police and judiciary. Based on human rights, it is a worrying situation,” says Damberg.

Commenting on President Duterte’s controversial statements to kill addicts and criminals the Swedish minister responded: “It is even more important that Europe and Sweden have a presence in the Philippines to be able monitor on site what happens. The ongoing situation rather increases this need, in order to be able to follow what is happening.  Sweden and Europe will continue to have a dialogue with the Philippines on the rule of law. From a diplomatic perspective, the embassy has become even more important.”

The decision to increase the Swedish presence in the Philippines was based on trade – and that still applies today.

“The main reason is that we want to have a stronger presence in Southeast Asia. The government’s export strategy shows that we need to change our export patterns and reach emerging markets to a greater extent. The Philippines is the largest country in terms of population in which Sweden did not have an embassy, the industry minister told Svenska Dagbladet.

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The Swedish embassy in Manila was previously shut down in 2008 due to budget cuts.

In connection to the inauguration of the new embassy Team Sweden visits Manila on 7 – 9 November, with a large business delegation of businessmen. Atlas Copco, Ericsson, Scania Group, SEB, Swedish Match and Volvo Buses are among the Swedish corporations attending.

No Swedish company has become hesitant to do business in the Philippines despite the controversy over the President’s foreign policy stance, Harald Fries, Sweden’s ambassador-designate, told Manila Times.

Swedish businessmen “know the fundamentals here” and the noise about the Philippines will not affect their business or investment plans, he said.

“When I read the papers here, some chambers of commerce have expressed that if this continues, it could have an effect on business interest. But I haven’t seen it in my conversation with [Swedish] companies.”

With the success of Swedish brands such as clothing retailer H&M in the Philippine mass market, others like home accessories and furniture chain Ikea and Volvo Buses are not far behind, he said in a roundtable discussion with the newspaper’s editorial team.

One of the Swedish businesses about to move in is the defense contractor Saab Group, which is scheduled to inaugurate its office at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City on 9 November.

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