In early March, three Nordic businessmen, the Dane Kjeld Olsen, the Norwegian Morten Kvammen and the Finn Teemu Jantunen, presented their vision and mission statement for a new Nordic Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia. Pages
Nordic frontier entrepreneurs are forming a business network to bring in more business from home.
In early March, three Nordic businessmen, Mr Kjeld Olsen, Mr Morten Kvammen and Mr Teemu Jantunen, presented their vision and mission statement for a new Nordic Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia in front of a group of 50 people that had gathered in a trendy restaurant in the capital of Phnom Penh.
“We organised a small networking event to measure the level of interest to establish NordCham Cambodia among the business community, and we were absolutely overwhelmed by the strong turnout and support,” says Mr Olsen.
He is an automotive industry entrepreneur from Denmark with 25 years of experience in three countries, who has nurtured his business interests in Cambodia for the past four years by founding a car dealership Car4you and DanfilCarz, which produces zero emission electric vehicles and a number of specialised vehicles, including minibuses, VIP vans, food trucks, that the company is exporting to several countries around the world.
He has also been the main driving force behind founding NordCham, which is aimed to serve as a platform for engaging with Nordic businesses and activities in Cambodia.
“We, the Nordic countries, are relatively small and Cambodia is also a small country, so the trade between us has traditionally not been substantial. When there’s no trade, it means that there are very few business people on the ground. I arrived to Vietnam 12 years ago and I had some contacts in Cambodia, and during that time all the Nordic people were part of NGOs, embassies and so on. This is certainly changing now.”
Renewables, especially wind and water power generation, and also green tech, are areas that show great potential for opportunities for Nordic countries in Cambodia, according to Mr Olsen.
“The Norwegians are strong in the maritime and aquaculture sectors, and Mr Kvammen, who is also one of the founders of NordCham Cambodia, is helping to develop a fish farming business here. The Danes have a great capacity to develop the garment industry, but they aren’t doing much in Cambodia yet, many businesses still prefer to do production in Thailand or Vietnam, and then subsidise some of the production here due to lower labour costs or a need to diversify.”
Mr Olsen, who has previously served as the head of NordCham in Hanoi, said that there had been a few failed attempts in recent years for entrepreneurs to set up business clubs in Cambodia, but considering the small number of Nordic people on the ground, they failed because the countries were not united. Drawing on his experience, Mr Olsen thought they might have more luck in formulating a cluster of 4-5 countries.
“In frontier markets like Cambodia, usually the Danish make up around 50% of NordChams, with the other 50% being split between Sweden, Norway, Finland and sometimes Iceland. Perhaps this is because we are a bit more entrepreneurial than our neighbours and are more used to trading, but the companies that Danes have in Cambodia tend to be rather small
in scale, covering areas like IT, media agencies and consultancies in various industries. The Swedes and Norwegians would usually bring bigger companies when coming out – H&M has a large sourcing office in Phnom Penh, although Maersk has now become one of the largest logistics provider here. All the rest are various SMEs you wouldn’t have heard of before.”
Upon realising that the Nordic countries need a concerted effort for this to work, Mr Olsen then launched his crusade to mustering support.
“I went around the embassies, starting with the Swedish one here in Phnom Penh, and the Danish, Norwegian and Finnish in Bangkok. Then I toured all the Nordic Chambers of Commerce there, too.”
His efforts seemed to have certainly paid off since both the Danish and Swedish ambassadors attended and held speeches at the NordCham Cambodia event.
H.E. Mr Uffe Wolffhechel, Ambassador of Denmark to Thailand and Cambodia, was impressed by the large turnout and praised the initiative for its efforts to create a safety net for Nordic businesses in Cambodia.
H.E. Ms Maria Sargen, the Swedish Ambassador to Cambodia, had only held her position for two weeks when Mr Olsen contacted her and informed her of his plans.
“I think it’s impressive to see what has happened in just a few months and I am very happy to have been able to follow this process. It is in my interest and the interest of the embassy to continue supporting the Nordic Chamber of Commerce,” said Ms Sargren in an interview with ScandAsia during the event.
But Mr Olsen’s crusade didn’t end with the embassies and chambers, as he soon realised that in order to make his efforts more relevant, NordCham Cambodia should operate under EuroCham.
“I went to EuroCham in Phnom Penh because they don’t have anything like it here and they were very positive. We are small so we want to be established as a chapter within EuroCham because being a much larger organisation, they receive more funds from the EU, and can create bigger events that attract more people.”
While finalising the negotiations with EuroCham are still underway and NordCham’s official acceptance to the organisation will be pending on their annual general meeting, Mr Olsen is hopeful that everything will proceed as planned and that they can eventually tap into EuroCham’s funding for future events.
The events in the planning stage are breakfast events with CEO’s, evening networking events, company visits and evening forums to engage in business relations. However, they also hope to be able to host several social events such as crayfish parties, Lucia parades, Christmas lunch and even a party inspired by the Nordic Vikings.
“There haven’t been any Nordic trade missions to Cambodia before. The Swedish government is planning one that will hopefully take place this spring and the Danes and Norwegians are also talking about it. This is definitely one key area where we can act as their partner and offer our support in helping to facilitate the trip and bringing more Nordic business here, and improving overall trade with Cambodia,” says Mr Olsen.
Above: Panorama of Cambodia's famous landmark, Angkor Wat.