The Honorable Astrid Marklund

Honorary Consul-General of Sweden In Houston Speaks With Heidi Powell & iF Magazine

First, tell us about yourself and walk us through your background.

I was born and raised in Sweden. Together with my husband Soren and our two sons we moved to the US in 1985 on a 2 year contract.  

We came here because my husband was sent over to run a subsidiary to Nobel Industries, a chemical company that originated with a company founded by Alfred Nobel. 

During our time in Texas, I studied at Baylor University and received my MBA. Our sons also have degrees from Texas universities.  

I have worked for several international companies during my years here in the US. In 1997 we moved to Houston, and I got involved with the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce. It turned out to be a 5 year commitment as the President for the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce in Texas and one year as the chairman for the umbrella organization for the entire U.S.       

What does a Consul-General in your capacity do?

The Consulate works in several fields. We serve the Swedish community with passports and various registrations with the Swedish authorities, and we help Swedish citizens in various situations when in a foreign country.  We issue temporary passports when needed and visit prisons to assist incarcerated Swedish citizens.  

Business and cultural promotions are other important activities.  

We receive business delegations and make programs for them to visit various organizations and companies.  On the Cultural side, we promote Swedish films, theatre, musicians, authors and other events based on requests and suggestions from Sweden and from the Embassy.  

Tell us about the Consulate General of Sweden in Houston. What parts of America are covered by the Consulate, and what are the services it provides?

The Consulate in Houston covers Southern Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  There are two working in this office, myself and Lovisa Larsson who is focusing on consular activities.  As I mentioned before, we focus on consular, business and cultural activities. Our main duties are to serve the Swedish community, to promote Sweden and to build bridges between Sweden and the, U. S.   

It is also important to keep the traditions from Sweden alive. We have just celebrated the National Day, an event organized and celebrated jointly with the local Swedish organizations such as the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, The Swedish Club and SWEA.  

What are some past, present and future goals for Sweden’s relationship with the United States?

The U.S. has always been fascinating to Swedes. In the 19th century over 1,000,000 immigrated from Sweden. At that time, Sweden was very poor and people took the chance to come over on boats to Ellis Island and to Galveston. Many settled in Minnesota and other northern states, but there is a Swedish Community in Texas called New Sweden (near Elgin) where there is a Swedish Church and a Swedish school house. The University of Texas Library also has a collection of Swedish books by Svante Palm, one of the first settlers in Texas. 

Currently there is an extensive business collaboration between the countries. The U. S. is Sweden’s 4th largest trading partner and the largest outside E. U. 

The U. S. is even more important for us on the investment side. Swedish investments in the U. S. have more than doubled over the last decade. In 2017 Sweden was the 14th largest investor in the U. S.  

More than 70 Swedish Companies are present in Texas such as Ericsson, Tetra Pak, Atlas Copco, Alfa Laval, Sandvik, IKEA, H&M just to mention a few, and Swedish companies in the U. S. create approximately 360,000 jobs of which there are more than 30,000 jobs created in Texas.  

We also have collaboration in the medical sector between Karolinska Institute and MD Anderson, and an exchange between Swedish and Texas universities.   

In the future, we want to encourage more trade relations between our countries and to get more Swedish companies to establish themselves in the U. S., as well as getting more U. S. investments to Sweden. In this context, Sweden is, of course, interested in increasing our presence in Texas. The Sectors of most interest include hi-tech and innovation hubs, digitalization, energy and shipping. We would also like to deepen our relationships with universities and cultural institutions.  

Tell us about your perspective on ways that the United States-Swedish cooperation may be furthered.

Texas has been identified by the Embassy of Sweden as one of a handful of key states for Sweden to focus on. 

For Swedish companies, Texas is an important economy that provides an innovative business climate for both trade and investments. 

Sweden would also like to deepen our relationships on the cultural side with film, music, theatre and art. 

In 2018 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Ingmar Bergman, the well- known Swedish film director, with approximately 50 screenings of his films. This was a collaboration with Rice University, MFAH Film and theatres in Austin and College Station. 

This fall we will collaborate with Alley Theatre and a Swedish Theatre called “Unga Klara” which will perform in Houston. They are also introducing their concept of focus on a younger audience. 

Swedish film and actors draw attention with Academy Award winners such at Alicia Wikander and Alexander Skarsgard, as well as film directors such as Ruben Ostlund, Ray Andersson and Anna Odell.            

Music is also an important industry for Sweden. Did you know that Sweden is the world’s most successful exporter of chart music in relation to GDP? Maybe you know Avicii, First Aid Kid, Robyn or ABBA. They are all Swedish and hugely popular. Spotify and Soundcloud are also Swedish and leaders in music distribution.     

Each year Sweden is well represented at SXSW in Austin to explore and exchange views on the newest innovations.    

What are some big picture issues facing Sweden today?

Sweden is a small country and dependent on trade and business outside our borders. To maintain an open international trade regimen is therefore of crucial importance. 

Climate change is high on the Swedish political agenda. Our Prime minister has announced that Sweden will be one of the world’s first fossil-free nations. Today, Sweden benefits from having the highest share of renewable energy in the EU with close to 60 percent of our energy coming from renewable energy sources. We have also agreed on the objective that 70 percent of sold vehicles in 2030 should be fueled by non-fossil based fuels. The demand for smart innovations and technologies within the environmental sector has increased in both Sweden and the rest of the world. This is currently a growing export sector and the U. S. is an important market. ,

How is the Swedish business community uniquely positioning itself to help Americans who are interested in doing business in Sweden?

As I mentioned earlier, Texas is identified, by the Swedish Embassy, as one of the states that will get extra attention and resources to identify business partners and investment opportunities. Visits by the Ambassador and/or trade delegations have taken place every month so far this year. 

We also have Business Sweden, a governmental trade organization, and the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce. Both organizations are well equipped to assist in trade and investments in both Sweden and in the U. S.      

Is there anything we have not discussed that you would like to mention?

Yes, since I am a woman I need to let you know about the gender equality in Sweden. The Swedish government strongly believes that gender equality benefits everyone, including boys and men. Research shows that gender equal societies enjoy better health, stronger economic growth and higher security. Research also demonstrates that companies with a high degree of diversity are more profitable. Violence against women decreases when cultural norms about masculinity change. Children all over the world would benefit from having more engaged and active fathers. Boys and men are key agents of change and the Swedish government promotes the involvement of boys and men in the fight for gender equality. 

For example, Sweden has 80% labor participation, the highest in E. U.  Currently 52% of the Swedish cabinet members are women and 46% of the parliament members are women. However, women are still underrepresented in CEO positions. 

All this is possible due to a very generous parental insurance through the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. That allows for 480 paid days of parental leave, making it easier for both women and men to combine work and family.

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