Yesterday was the first day in a week’s time that I was not biking an average of 90 kilometers through the Swedish heartland – and I am actually sad about it! Me and several colleagues from the Embassy have just completed a trans-Sweden bicycle trip, from the water’s edge on the West Coast, in Gothenburg, to the water’s edge on the East Coast, in Stockholm. It was simply one of the best things I have done in my two and half years in Sweden. Through the bike trip, I had the chance to engage with Swedes in towns, villages and cities I had not been to before, and to listen and learn and interpret what it is the U.S. Government is trying to do especially in the area of trade, but also security, education and other topics.
The bike trip, termed ‘T-TRIP,’ highlighted the benefits of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)—-the proposed US-EU free trade and investment agreement-—to stakeholders around the country, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In the course of seven days, we undertook a remarkable program that allowed the Embassy’s T-TRIP team to engage an incredibly wide range of stakeholders, ranging from small farmers, business leaders, local and regional officials, University heads and professors and students, immigrant leaders, major corporations, to one of the most influential former Swedish Prime Ministers. This program allowed us to listen and learn, and to interpret for our friends in Sweden what the U.S. Government is trying to do here, in the Nordic region, in Europe on trade and other topics.
Biking more than 400 miles (roughly 650km) over seven days, our T-TRIP bike team visited nine cities and met with dozens of business owners, entrepreneurs, local government officials, and others in order to learn about local industry and commerce and to share thoughts on how T-TIP could benefit us all. While primarily focused on advancing T-TIP, the trip also allowed me to meet with many other people to talk about key issues in our bilateral relationship.
There are few better ways to connect with the wonderful people of Sweden or learn more about how the people feel in the heartland about trade and commerce. It was an ideal way for the Embassy to share our perspectives and goals with Swedish society.
Our journey started last Friday in Gothenburg. The Mayor of Gothenburg, Anneli Hulthén, greeted us herself on a bike and we rode together to the Port of Gothenburg, where we took a boat tour of the remarkable infrastructure that allows this Port to be the partner in trade that it is. The Port of Gothenburg, the largest port in the Nordics, is a site of historical and contemporary connections between the U.S. and Sweden. During my visit, I and the T-TRIP team toured the facilities and learned about the ways the Port functions as a link between Sweden and the U.S. In the nineteenth century, over one million emigrating Swedes began their journey to the U.S. at Gothenburg’s port. Today, it is a main hub for trade between Sweden and the U.S., with two container ships sailing directly to U.S. ports each week. During my visit, I also met with Kim Ullman of Stena Lines Shipping Group, a global conglomerate based in Gothenburg with operations in the U.S. Stena is an example of a Gothenburg corporate citizen that is engaged around the world.
And then we started our bike ride across Sweden. We biked to the historic Swedish trading center of Alingsås the first day. The team participated in a walking tour of Alingsås’ historic center, which highlighted local legacies of industrialization, commerce, and manufacturing. Afterwards, Embassy representatives, local business leaders, and members of the City Council met to discuss T-TIP. We also met several young entrepreneurs who would benefit from an agreement and are excellent examples of how T-TIP will help expand the innovative start-up scene in the U.S. and Sweden even further.
The next day we biked to Falköping, where we engaged with two important sectors for this region – dairy production and sustainable energy. The team met with young farmers, representatives from the Swedish Farmers Confederation, and local milk producers, and took part in a tour of a dairy research farm. I stressed that trade in dairy products between the U.S. and Europe could be greatly bolstered by the passage of T-TIP. The T-TRIP team also toured Falbygdens Energi, Sweden’s first energy storage plant facility for low voltage networks. We discussed the ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and Sweden in the sector of green technology and sustainable energy. The representatives from Falbygdens Energi emphasized that expanding trade through T-TIP would allow clean energy technologies and renewable fuel solutions such as these to be shared more easily with the U.S.
Our next stop was the University of Skövde, where we met with students, faculty, and municipality representatives for a roundtable discussion of what T-TIP would mean for the future of innovative and creative technologies. Skövde is the largest educational center for gaming and computer science in Sweden and it has recently initiated several best practices collaboration with Microsoft, Stanford and the University of Washington. Embassy staff saw how gaming technology can be applied for beneficial secondary uses. One scientist presented his work on how computer games can rehabilitate stroke patients. A group of students working with Volvo presented their designs for lightweight solar panels what will be installed on garbage trucks.
After Skövde we met up with the Ranger Battalion at K3 Karlsborg together with officers who had served in international peace keeping operations around the world. It was an honor to be hosted by Chief of Staff, Börje Berkelind, and his team of officers. We also met with small and medium-sized Swedish companies to discuss the benefits and challenges of the T-TIP. I pointed out that one of the key goals of T-TIP is to reduce trade barriers that can burden SMEs, which have fewer resources to overcome such barriers.
On the way to Mariefred, I and the T-TRIP team made a stop in Stjärnhov for a house tour and a coffee break with the former Prime Minister Göran Persson. We discussed foreign policy, T-TIP, and sustainable energy. Upon arriving in Mariefred, I and my team had dinner with the local business owners and startup entrepreneurs hosted by Inger Grindelid, current acting chief of the municipality of Strängnäs.
The group consisted of a diverse group of young professionals, displaying everything from gym owners, local wine distillers and a green tech car pool company that reached out to the Embassy for new clients.
On our last day of biking we visited Södertälje. The city of Södertälje alone hosts more displaced Syrian/Iraqi children than a dozen of other EU-countries combined. The T-TRIP team met with the current Mayor Boel Godner, NGO´s, teachers and representatives from the Syrian Orthodox Church. In the conversation, we learned of programs in Södertälje to promote integration. I explained how at the Embassy we’ve been connecting Americans and Swedes to exchange best practices on promoting tolerance and integration.
The T-TRIP team spent the afternoon at the Scania Factory, employing about 10,000 individuals in Södertälje, learning how T-TIP could help companies like Scania grow their business and create new jobs. Scania executives noted that the combination of customs duties and regulatory hurdles have hindered greater business and investment in the U.S. The team also discussed SelectUSA as a means to expand their investments in the U.S. We also got to test drive several of Scania’s busses and trucks.
On the final leg of the trip, a number of guest riders joined the T-TRIP team for the ride in to Stockholm. The journey concluded at Carnegie Brewery—a joint venture between Carlsberg and Brooklyn Brewery. Stockholm is Brooklyn Brewery’s second
largest market outside of New York City. Minister of Trade Ewa Björling greeted us along our friends from the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden, the American Club and the Embassy community.
I can say categorically that this bicycle adventure is one of the best engagements I have had in Sweden. We were able to get out into the countryside, meet wonderful people, and get to know this beautiful country much better. Our ’T-TRIP’ also helped us highlight the strong ties between the U.S. and Sweden and see first hand how T-TIP could create jobs, give consumers more choice, grow our economies and make the connection between the U.S. and Sweden even stronger.
It was a highly worthwhile and enjoyable adventure.
Check our our Embassy’s Tumblr for more stories and photos from the trip.