Icelandic businessman likes potential in China

Updated: 2012-04-22 07:35

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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Icelandic businessman likes potential in China


As Arni Alvar Arason follows news accounts about Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Iceland this weekend, he can't help recalling another state visit - one that cemented his relationship to China.

"That time, the plane was flying the other way," said the Icelandic businessman who heads Ossur Asia, a world leader in orthopedic technology. "I myself was in a delegation in 2005 led by the president of Iceland," he says of Olafur Ragnar Grimsson's maiden trip to Beijing. "I came for the first time to China in 1985 and then for the second time in 2005. I recognized the tremendous changes from my first visit and since 2007 I have been living in Shanghai with my family."

Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, in 2002, and Arason - now chairman of the Icelandic Business Forum in China - says these high-level visits open doors and create personal connections that "expedite events and business relationships".

"There is a small group of Icelandic companies doing business in China," he says, noting that his organization has 19 corporate members in tourism, energy, gaming, health care, transportation, food and beverage, procurement, industrial machines, fish trade and shipping. "Relationships between Iceland and Chinese authorities are well established and some of the Icelandic companies are offering unique products or services and others are offering expertise in Iceland tourism.

"I think the premier's visit to Iceland will encourage business people from these industries to consider doing business in either China or Iceland in the medium term."

Because Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area, he says, "We enjoy many benefits EU members have in dealing with China. But because our economy still depends heavily on fish exporting, we are slightly at a disadvantage when pushing through trade agreements or concessions as an individual country" because Iceland is not a full EU member, though that process is ongoing.

Ossur was established in China in 2006, he says, and has been building business in two areas, artificial-limb technology and in the area of medical braces and support.

"We are heavily education and training oriented, offering training to prosthetics, nurses and orthopedic doctors. We have our Asia central offices in Shanghai with good training facilities and we employ 53 people throughout Asia, including 40 in China."

Besides teaching professionals how to make the most of medical technology available, Ossur's trainers reach out to the public with information on common health issues such as knee pain.

Arason is proud that his company was very involved in supporting aid organizations and authorities in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. "We had three of our experts working in Sichuan for many months," he says, and his forum, its members and the Iceland government all helped to raise 500,000 yuan ($80,000) that was used to build the Binghua Hope Primary School in Wande Village of Sichuan's Huidong county in cooperation with China Youth Development Foundation.