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Precious trade from the far north of Europe to the far east of Asia.

The globalised economy is often seen as a modern phenomenon, a creation of the 21st century borne out of technological and communications advances. However, if filming our CNN series Silk Road: Past, Present, Future has shown me anything, it's that globalisation is nothing new. The business of cross-border trading, imports and exports, merchants making a living, an exchange of culture as well as goods, took place over thousands of miles along the ancient Silk Road from China to Europe. The latest episode in our series took us to the far north of Europe - Denmark and Norway - where we uncovered stories of valuable export markets dating back to the ancient Silk Road.

Filming in Denmark we saw first-hand the value of amber, the precious gemstone known as the gold of the north. The fossilised resin of trees that once made a vast forest where the Baltic Sea now lies, amber was one of the biggest trade successes of the Viking age -- it was traded right along the Silk Road used in jewellery, as a form of payment and even for its medicinal properties.

Hundreds of years later, amber is a commodity that retains its allure for people like Frants Kristensen, who has collected amber from the shores of the Baltic Sea for over 50 years. He told me: "There is an old Danish saying that goes 'first the man takes the amber, then the amber takes the man' -- and that just means that you try it, then you don't want to stop." As I watched him polish and shape the amber in his small workshop, preparing it for sale, he explained that here in the northernmost tip of Denmark his biggest customers come from China.

One of those customers, amber exporter Peng Yuan, explained that the demand is driven by authenticity: "We Chinese think that Scandinavians have good quality. In China, because the amber market is very big and there is a lot of people, they make fake amber. So consumers are afraid to buy directly from the Chinese market. Because they know I'm in Denmark I can just buy for them because there is no quality problem."

Having a commodity in such demand from one of the world's major economies with over 1.3 billion consumers is no mean feat. It's lucrative business too -- increase in demand from China has pushed the price of amber so high that its price can be compared with gold. Unsurprisingly, it's not just the amber collectors like Frants Kristensen who are seizing the opportunity. Pia Fons Sorensen, Managing Director of The House of Amber, told me why the jewellery company opened its first store in China in 2008 and now has 30 in the country: "It was very natural to go to China. The House of Amber has always been selling a lot of amber to Chinese customers here, and amber is one of the Buddhist treasures that means a lot of people in China already understand a lot about amber."

This idea of ancient traditions and ways of doing business is a constant theme throughout our CNN series, whichever country we've visited. Continually, we are meeting visionaries who look to the past to inform their business strategy in today's globalised economy. While the commonly held view of the Vikings is not as traders, it's clear to see that in modern-day Denmark there is a huge business opportunity for those who take inspiration from their ancestors about the export market for amber, the gold of the north.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:4EUDE
Date:Dec 15, 2015
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