Honorable Ambassador Richard Tetu, Mr. Stuart Mac Key, ladies and gentlemen.
Seen from a cultural point of view - the heart of the Icelanders has for a long time been with the Icelandic settlements in Canada. The focus has generally been on the people of the Province of Manitoba - or ever since the sternwheel steamer landed at Fort Garry in Winnipeg on the 16th of July 1875, - which is the date when the first Icelanders set foot in the Great Northwest.
In more practical terms – and closer in time - the Atlantic Provinces of Canada have been of a particular interest to the Icelanders. One can say that the two jurisdictions share a part of the North Atlantic Ocean and the people have fought the same harsh weather conditions at sea - in order to stay alive.
Newfoundland is probably the first Atlantic Province that comes to mind for many. We have had direct shipping connections with Newfoundland for a long time and the airport at Gander was - before "the jet-age" - the last refueling stop for airplanes crossing the North Atlantic Ocean. The fishing banks off the shore of Newfoundland were - as well - frequent destinations for the Icelandic trawlers.
Of course we have now a much broader view of what Canada is all about and what Canada has to offer - and the Icelanders have thoroughly explored the possibilities there. In the nineteen-nineties interest in doing business in Canada grew rapidly. This was greatly escalated when Icelandair started their thrice-weekly Halifax-Reykjavik flight in 1996. It resulted in the flourishing of business and cultural connections between all the four Atlantic Provinces and Iceland.
Many of the Icelandic Ministries added Nova Scotia to their priority list and a great variety of exchanges took place between Iceland and Canada. My Ministry of Industry and Commerce led for example two Trade Missions to Newfoundland and three to Nova Scotia. We also observed increasing interest from the [Province of] Prince Edward Islands which resulted in at least two Trade Missions from PEI to Iceland - and exports to Iceland grew from almost nothing to over a half a million dollars in a year.
But Icelandair terminated it’s five year stay in Atlantic Canada sooner than most expected. The last flight was in October 2001. I think that our experience from the Icelandair period clearly shows that there is a direct linkage between transportation connectivity – on one hand – and economic and cultural development on the other hand.
One researcher that has evaluated this period has stated the following:
"In the period between 1994 and 2000, Atlantic Canadian exports to Iceland grew almost four-fold, to a value of almost eight-million dollars. With the termination of the Icelandair flight through Halifax, many of these businesses and affiliations will be severely affected".
I can not avoid mentioning this because it relates to the role of Government. The general feeling in Iceland is that - in spite of extensive lobbying on behalf of Icelandair for permission to operate daily flights - all such requests were rejected by Transport Canada – and thereby making it impossible to maintain this important link with Canada.
But – we have continued to travel to Canada and the opening of the Canadian Embassy here in Reykjavik and the Icelandic Embassy in Ottawa symbolizes the great will of the two Governments to increase relations. Both political and cultural relations are as good as they can be – but we definitely have a task to increase the business relations.
Ladies and gentlemen.
It is clear that the two nations – Iceland and Canada – have much in common: We for example - share the same sound business ethics; - honesty; - and - transparency in our business endeavors. In addition - there is a genuine warm feeling and mutual respect between the two nations. Based on this I belief that we have all that is needed to take a new step towards increasing trade between our two nations - for the benefit of both.
Thank you for your attention.