US retreats on Swedish glass deal: report

Glass maker Orrefors has reacted with astonishment to US media reports that Hillary Clinton has bowed under pressure to rebid a major contract won by the Swedish firm.

“We haven’t heard anything from the US State Department, so this comes as a surprise to us,” Eva-Marie Hagström of Orrefors Kosta Boda told The Local.

“We have a contract wth the US State Deartment. We’ve already begun production and are ready to start delivering later this spring,” she added.

But democratic senator Charles Schumer said US official Patrick F. Kennedy had revealed the official turnaround at a private meeting.

“They’re going to rebid it so that American-made glass gets preference, and we have every confidence that Steuben is going to win it,” Schumer told the New York Post.

Critics had previously fumed that Clinton had overlooked Steuben, a prestigious glass maker located in New York, a state for which the US Secretary of State was senator for most of the last decade.

Clinton’s State Department handed the $5.4 million contract to a small Washington DC-based firm who in turn brought in Orrefors, one of Sweden’s best-known brands.

The items are to be embellished with the seal of the United States and used for functions at 400 embassies and ambassadors’ residences worldwide.

But the order was met with angry reactions from some quarters in the US who felt that the contract should have gone to an American firm.

“This is about fighting for American jobs. The US government should not turn its back on American workers and send job opportunities abroad,” Republican Pat Tiberi and Democrat Eric Massa wrote in a letter to Hillary Clinton, according to news agency TT.

Orrefors Kosta Boda, located in Sweden’s Kingdom of Crystal in rural Småland in southern Sweden, explained that it had won the order in the face of stiff competition and that the US state department had warmed to the firm’s environmental profile.

“We won the contract for our design but they were also interested in our lead-free products and environmentally-friendly approach to glass making,” Eva-Marie Hagström told The Local earlier this month.

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Sweden warns of sharper than expected economic slowdown

Sweden's government has worsened its economic outlook, bracing the country for slowing growth and rising unemployment.

Sweden warns of sharper than expected economic slowdown
Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said trade tensions were slowing growth. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
In its latest prognosis, the country's finance ministry expects the country's economy to grow by 1.1 percent in 2020, down from the 1.4 percent it predicted in last September's budget. 
“We expect growth in Sweden to start slowing,” Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said as she released the new figures. 
“There is a fairly broad consensus on the reason: This is due to trade wars and growing barriers for business, which has generated uncertainty over trade in the future, leading to reduced investment.” 
She said that the lacklustre economic growth in Germany had been a particular problem for Swedish exporters. 
According to the new prognosis, unemployment will hit 7 percent this year and next year, compared to the 6.4 percent predicted in September. 
But Andersson said that Sweden's healthy government finance, the result of years of budget surpluses, put it in a strong position to weather the downturn. 
“We can meet this slowdown without any significant cuts,” she said. “We have the lowest government debt since 1977 and compared to other EU countries were are extremely low.” 
She described the country's finances as a 'welfare reserve' which would allow the government to keep services running and provide fiscal economic stimulus in bad times.
She also said that the government planned this year to channel more money to Sweden's cash-strapped municipalities in through a special spring budget, recognising that growing unemployment is likely to drag on local budgets. 
The government could release emergency financing to the municipalities even earlier, she said. 
“It's obvious that requirements are greater now and will be greater in future.”