Ávarp ráðherra á viðskiptaviðburði í sendiráði Íslands í Moskvu
þriðjudaginn 26. nóvember 2019
Mr. Dvorkovich, Ladies and gentlemen, friends of Iceland and Russia,
I want to welcome you to our Embassy to celebrate the friendship of Iceland and Russia, reinforce and deepen our business relationship and explore new avenues for business.
I had a meeting earlier today with my distinguished colleague (and friend) Mr. Sergei Lavrov. This is the first visit of an Icelandic Foreign Minister to Moscow for eight years. We certainly have our differences. That is exactly why trade between our two countries is more important now than ever. Because trade is so much more than the exchange of money for goods and services. Trade is people to people relations, trade is understanding each other, trade is finding common solutions, trade is working together. Trade is the catalyst for peaceful and mutually beneficial relations.
I can therefore say, with great conviction, the promoting trade and ensuring the best possible business environment for Icelandic companies has been and will always be one of my priorities as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Russia and Iceland are old friends and we have been doing business for a long time. For decades, Iceland and Russia exchanged herring and capelin for fuel and Ladas. Iceland mainly exported fish to Russia - that is until five years ago. Without going into the politics, the fact is Iceland became one of the worst affected countries by Russia’s import restrictions on food imports. Our export to Russia reduced by over 90% between 2014 and 2016. Many companies were hurt by this and unfortunately the issue further soured our relations.
But as one door closed, another one opened. We have seen new opportunities and cooperation between Icelandic and Russian companies in the food production and especially fishery sectors as a result of the massive investment that is underway in these sectors in Russia. Some have even referred to a boom in the cooperation between Icelandic companies in the sea tech sector and Russian fishery. Icelandic knowledge and know-how is being developed with Russian companies as they modernize their fishing fleet and processing facilities.
Tourism between our countries is booming – in both directions. Last year Icelanders flocked to Russia during the football world cup and many took the opportunity to travel around the country to the different games and to explore the sights, taste culinary treats and learn about the rich history of Russia. Russian tourists are highly appreciated visitors in Iceland and their numbers are growing year by year. Direct flights during the summer season for the past two years have further encouraged this trend and the total number of Russian visitors in Iceland will set a new record this year.
So, despite the difficulties I mentioned earlier, there are many areas where we can welcome better business relations and amble opportunities. We want more of that.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This business forum is the first event of the newly established Russian-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, that I took part in launching with (my dear friend), Anton Vasiliev, the Russian Ambassador in Reykjavik just one month ago. The idea of creating a forum where Russian and Icelandic businesses can work together was pursued by the Icelandic Ambassador in Moscow, Berglind Ásgeirsdóttir, in connection to the 75th Anniversary of diplomatic relations that we celebrated last year. What better way to celebrate this important milestone than to create the Russian-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce? I am certain that the Chamber will be very useful for Russians and Icelanders doing business, for the benefit of both our countries.
I am therefore particularly pleased to be accompanied here in Moscow by a business delegation of (15) Icelandic companies and the Chamber. Some of them have well established links with Russia but others have quite recently started or are considering Russia as a market for trade, services or cooperation. They come from different sectors and we will hear more about some of them later today. I urge you all to use the opportunity and reach out and establish contact. The companies all share a keen interest in working with the people of Russia in the field of trade. And we want to make that happen.
To our Russian friends present here today I want to say a few words about doing business in Iceland and what we have to offer you. As I mentioned earlier it is a top priority for me as minister responsible for external trade that Icelandic companies enjoy the best business opportunities abroad. But the Icelandic government is equally focused on attracting foreign businesses and investments to Iceland and we are striving to make the business environment in Iceland company friendly and amongst the most competitive in the world.
It is relatively easy to set up a company in Iceland and the Icelandic public is open to trying new products. Iceland is part of the European Economic Area and therefore a part of the internal market, meaning that the rules and regulations that affect free movement of goods, services, people and capital are basically the same in Iceland as in the European Union. Iceland is also a member of EFTA that has made 29 Free trade agreements with 40 countries and custom territories.
I certainly hope conditions will improve for continuing the free trade talks between EFTA and the Eurasian Customs Union, that have now been on ice since 2014. When it has not been possible for EFTA to negotiate jointly Iceland has made bilateral free trade agreements. We were thus the first European country to conclude a free trade agreement with China.
Iceland has an abundance of renewable energy sources, so all stationary energy – including house heating – is renewable. We have a talented and well-educated workforce and strive to attract talented people from abroad to work. Iceland ranks at the top of many international indicators that measure wellbeing, equality, transparency and even happiness, and is a family and child friendly, peaceful society.
So you see there are plenty of reasons for doing business with us.
We also want to learn from you and explore opportunities for doing business in Russia. The Icelandic business delegation present here today visited Skolkova Innovation Center yesterday. They are very impressed with what Russia is doing to support innovation and research in the different fields and by the sheer size of the Skolkova area and the variety of activity taking place there. The visit to Skolkova comes only a month after the Icelandic Innovation Center and Skolkovo signed a memorandum of understanding where the two centres expressed a willingness to work together. Amongst the areas Skolkova focuses on are IT, energy and biomedicine – all areas where Icelandic companies are prominent and sometimes at the forefront worldwide.
I hope we will see much greater cooperation between Iceland and Russia on innovation and research in the future. I am certain there are many opportunities to work more closely together and I am particularly glad that Mr. Arkady Dvorkovich, Chairman of the Skolkovo Foundation, was able to participate with us here today, to further explore how we can work more closely together.
Innovation does not happen in isolation and this is what innovation centres and clusters are all about. In Reykjavík, in addition to the Icelandic Innovation Center we have both an Ocean Cluster and a Renewable Energy Cluster where many start-ups and entrepreneurs have a chance to incubate and develop their ideas. As a matter of fact, some of the innovative sea tech companies in our delegation to Russia started off as brilliant idea that got developed with the help of the cluster environment. Expanding this environment across borders, through cooperation between these centres and clusters, will only expand our possibilities to reach further.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Despite recent setbacks, we are deepening and expanding the business relationship between Iceland and Russia in many different areas. We have a long tradition of trade and cooperation between our nations. We are hopefully seeing a new chapter in the business relations with a newly established Russian-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, increasing cooperation on innovation and a number of companies venturing into new areas. I will continue to work on improving the business opportunities between our two nations and look forward to doing this with all of you.