HELSINKI ― Finland’s arms exports rose to $150 million in 2016 amid continuing efforts by the country’s defense industry to grow sales to markets in the Middle East. However, the increase in export business to the region, and in particular those states engaged in the military conflict in Yemen, is proving a cause for concern in some political quarters in Finland.

“We need to question some export permits, especially to states in the Middle East that are experiencing civil unrest and at war with their neighbors. It is questionable whether we should be selling military materials to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are involved in the conflict in Yemen,” said Erkki Tuomioja, a Social Democratic lawmaker who formerly served as Finland‘s foreign minister.

According to the Finland-based security think tank SaferGlobe, a record 63 percent of Finland’s defense export revenues in 2016 were generated from sales to Middle Eastern countries.

The Ministry of Defence has approved nearly 100 “export permits” to defense companies covering materiel sales to Middle Eastern countries since 2015.

The significant increase in the value of Finland’s exports to the Middle East in 2016 can be largely explained by a number of standout deliveries by state-controlled Patria, the country’s largest defense group.

Patria has sold its Nemo mortar systems to Saudi Arabia. In 2015, the company secured a contract to deliver 40 eight-wheel drive armored modular vehicles to the United Arab Emirates. Patria has also sold AMVs fitted with the Nemo mortar system to Qatar.

Additional Finnish military exports included Sako sniper rifles and Boomeranger special operations boats. Another Finnish company, Marine Alutech, has sold 14 Watercat K13 interceptor boats to Oman.

Patria recently strengthened efforts to sell its AMVXP armored wheeled vehicle, which is integrated with Kongsberg’s Protector Dual Remote Weapon Station, to markets in the Middle East.

“Finland has long held the ambition to stimulate exports to the Middle East. This ambition is now realized,” said Kari Paasonen, a senior research analyst at SaferGlobe.

Finland continues to apply strict due diligence before granting export permits for military weapons and systems, said Ilkka Kanerva, parliamentary Defence Committee chairman and National Coalition Party member.

“The increase in sales to the Middle East in 2016 was mainly due to a single, exceptionally large deal,” said Kanerva, referencing Patria’s AMV delivery contract with the UAE.

The core of Patria’s exports in 2017 are likely to be in Europe rather than in the Middle East.

The company recently obtained a contract to deliver Compact Airborne Networking Data Link terminals and high-power amplifiers to Airbus Defence and Space in Germany. Patria also secured a four-year contract to maintain the Norwegian military’s Bell 412 helicopters.

Gerard O'Dwyer reported on Scandinavian affairs for Defense News.

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