“There’s a growing confidence among Danish companies that Japan is no longer a sleeping beauty”

Turning words into actions

Ambassador of Denmark to Japan Freddy Svane


Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Ben Beech

With a career in the Danish Foreign Service spanning more than 35 years, Ambassador of Denmark to Japan Freddy Svane is adept at seizing every opportunity to strengthen ties between Denmark and Japan and encourage greater collaboration between the two nations. He is also an unflagging champion of economic diplomacy, promoting his nation’s business interests wherever he goes. He spoke to Eurobiz Japan about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s landmark visit to Denmark last year, Danish companies’ growing interest in the Japanese market and his embassy’s goals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

What was the outcome of last year’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Denmark and Japan?

It has made our already very cordial, very close ties even stronger. Partnership is something you can build on, but friendship takes a long time. Last year, we jointly recognised that our partnership is also about friendship. We see eye-to-eye on many, many issues, and are focused on creating gateways to the future.

We had a lot to celebrate. It was 150 years ago we signed the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. We gifted a copy of the treaty to Japan; they had lost theirs in 1923. The Scandinavian airline SAS celebrated their 60th anniversary of direct trans-polar flights between Copenhagen and Tokyo. Royal Copenhagen, perhaps the best-known Danish brand out here, celebrated their 50th anniversary in Japan.

Prime Minister Abe was in Denmark last year. It was the first ever visit for bilateral talks by a Japanese prime minister. The shared objective of this visit was to move the focus of the Strategic Partnership Agreement we signed in 2014 from nice words into actions. And the two prime ministers did that. We now have a shared vision and shared ambition. And we are working hand in hand to translate our good ideas into practical, measurable actions.

Can you tell me about the Crown Prince Couple’s trip to Japan?

Denmark’s Crown Prince Couple [Frederik and Mary] came in October, and we were graced by fantastic weather. They came in on a Sunday and went to Toyosu Park in Koto ward for a walkathon. Thousands of people took part. After that, we saw some Olympic sites. And then we took them to Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture; there was an exhibition up there on Danish design in daily life.

The visit was a great success. I think our biggest achievement was that the Crown Prince [Naruhito] and Crown Princess [Masako] of Japan participated. And we had both a formal event where we celebrated 150 years, where the two Crown Prince couples came, and we had a gala dinner. It also showcased that ties between the imperial family and the royal family are very strong. That’s also a gateway to the future.


How would you describe Denmark’s current level of interest in the Japan market?

It’s growing. There’s a growing confidence among Danish companies that Japan is no longer a sleeping beauty. The Japanese economy is no longer in the ICU, though it is still a patient to some extent. Japan has had quite significant positive growth, if you look at this year and last year, so it is quite attractive, despite the fact that it’s a mature economy. Japan obviously has some challenges: the ageing population, taxation. But we have a number of products and services that fit into Japanese society that can help it deal with these challenges. Our companies are investing in maintaining their market position in Japan.

Japanese companies are also investing in Denmark. They are looking at a number of sectors. One sector is related to renewable energy. We have a big joint venture between Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Vestas, the world’s largest manufacturer of offshore wind turbines.

Then there are pharmaceuticals, medical devices, everything related to health. In the context of Japan’s ageing population, we’re seeing a lot of investment. Areas such as welfare robots and big data are very important.

What are the embassy’s goals for this year?

Of course, what we call economic diplomacy. That is the core.

We set out three priorities every year for what we are doing. This year, we are continuing with the Strategic Partnership agreement. It’s far-reaching. We have already signed a number of Memorandums of Collaboration under the umbrella of this agreement on maritime, on health, and on innovation, technology and science.

The second priority is to ensure that the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is not just signed but is also put into operation. So we have formed a task force here for all Danish companies to get the maximum output of the free trade agreement. We are collecting information on issues and challenges; we are informing, we are advising.

The third priority is the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020. Japan is using this external impulse to generate new technologies, to make a leap into the future. It’s very important for us to be part of that process, to raise our awareness about Japan, but also for Japanese to raise their awareness about us.

We have been working for almost two years to get a hospitality pavilion in Hibiya Park, not only for the Olympics, but also the Paralympics. It will be a sustainable structure, with wood from Fukushima prefecture and electricity produced by wind turbines or solar panels up there, turned into hydrogen, and brought to our pavilion.

What is one of the concrete goals of the Strategic Partnership?

One is to secure a closer collaboration, bilaterally as well as in international fora. The maritime sector is very important to Japan and Denmark. Shipping, and everything related to the maritime industry, has been a very strong tie between our two countries. Maersk, the biggest container company in the world, has been here for many years.

When you talk about the maritime business, it’s not only about securing easy access to harbours and terminals, there’s also the setting of standards for international shipping. Recently, there was an agreement on reducing the sulphur content in fuel for big vessels. Sulphur has a huge, negative impact on the environment. Since shipping is such a big part of the global trade system, this agreement is very important.

One other concrete example that we are pursuing is autonomous vessels. The day that you don’t have any people on board these huge container vessels is closer than we think. With regard to security, how do you create systems that can secure safe operation of this kind of logistics? We’re very keen to cooperate on this, and we have already had consultations in Denmark and in Japan. 

“we have formed a task force here for all Danish companies to get the maximum output of the free trade agreement”