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It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to this workshop.
I am particularly glad to see so many official representatives from Latin-America here today.
I am also happy to see such a large interest from the Norwegian business organizations.
This bodes well for today´s workshop.
Two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his Secretary of State:
"We have not heard from our Ambassador in Spain for two years.
If we do not hear from him this year, let us write him a letter."
No doubt, technological change has meant a lot for how we connect across borders.
But even if technology has brought us closer, some things will not go out of fashion.
For regardless of the existence of e-mail or video phone-calls:
When we establish new relationships: We still wish to meet face to face – to look into each others´ eyes – and have a chat over lunch.
My own background as an entrepreneur – working to promote intercultural competence in Norway – means that I know how important it is to have a solid professional network.
And as we have seen time and again: meeting places like these form new partnerships. Plus, they reinforce existing ones.
Today, we will discuss how we can increase trade and investments between Norway and Latin America.
And Norwegian business organizations; Innovation Norway, INTSOK, Intpow, Norwegian Seafood Council, Norwegian Shipowners’ Association, The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, Virke and Oslo Chamber of Commerce, will all give you presentations about their respective members and sectors.
My hope is that this workshop will open doors and add valuable contacts for all of you.
With only five million people and an area one third the size of Colombia, Norway is undoubtedly a small country.
Yet, we are the 23rd largest economy in the world.
And not unlike many of our counterparts in Latin-America, our economy is fuelled by natural resources:
• Oil and gas deposits in the North Sea have led to cutting edge expertise in deep sea exploration.
• Mountains and heavy rain and snow, is fundamental for our development of hydropower.
• And our coastline and strong coastal culture have been the backbone of our successful seafood industry, not to mention our highly specialized maritime industry.
We have become world leaders in a range of specialized products.
And we sell them for prizes and in quantities that matter.
That is the background for our wealth.
Yet, we know that our prosperity would not have taken place without international trade.
And the sectors I mentioned are also where we see that the bonds between Norway and Latin America are particularly strong.
Trough EFTA, Norway has negotiated Free Trade Agreements with several countries in Latin America, such as Mexico, Chile and Peru.
We have also signed Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica.
And we have a Joint Declaration of Cooperation with MERCOSUR.
I am glad to note that trade between Norway and Latin America is increasing.
In 2012 Norway imported goods and services from Latin America with a total worth of 23, 2 billion kroner.
And we exported goods and services worth 27, 1 billion kroner.
Our hope is to further increase these numbers!
From the frosty Pinguins, the windy Pampas and lush pine forests of the south – through the thin air of the Andes and the density of the Amazonas – to the warm Caribbean surf and sun further north:
Latin America is of course as diverse as any continent.
But if I take the liberty of generalizing, I can point out several reasons why Norway would be interested in engaging with all of Latin America today:
• Economic growth is solid.
• Since 2004, public debt as share of GDP has gone down and international reserves have gone up.
• And according to the latest Latinobarómetro poll, published by the Economist, belief in democracy is rising, along with satisfaction in life in general.
But in this globalized world, both Latinamerican countries and Norway have
to face some common challenges:
We are all affected by climate change, demographic challenges, the weak economic performance in the euro area, the slowdown in China’s economy and uncertainty over U.S. monetary policy.
And all of our countries are struggling towards common goals:
• To become better societies.
• And to establish strong, long term, sustainable economic growth.
As Pablo Neruda said in his Nobel Lecture in 1971:
“Our original guiding stars are struggle and hope.”
But, he added, “there is no such thing as a lone struggle, no such thing as a lone hope.”
One of the most important means to achieve our goals of sustainable economic growth is trade and interaction with other nations, and not to walk this road alone.
And in Norway we know that if our partners in Latin America are prosperous, Norwegian companies can also prosper.
To sum up: We acknowledge our mutual dependency.
Therefore I am glad that we are taking this opportunity today for dialogue, questions and discussion.
For the Norwegian business associations it is a wonderful opportunity to present yourself and your expertise.
For the representatives from Latin America it is a place where you can learn more about how to promote business between your home countries and Norway.
And for all of you it is a day where you can forge bonds and establish new connections.
For as I said at the beginning:
Meeting face to face, or having a chat over lunch;
- will not go out of fashion.
I wish you all a successful seminar.
Thank you for your attention.