Keynote Address by H.E. Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
at the Iceland Business Seminar
Tokyo, 28 May 2018
Mr IRINO, Executive Vice President of Jetro, Distinguished Guests,
It gives me pleasure to be with you today and to open this important business seminar on my first visit to Tokyo. It is business that brings us to Tokyo today and a wish to combine our strengths in order to make something new.
Coming from a country that fought its way from poverty to become, in a relatively short period of time, a well-functioning modern economy with living standards that are among the highest in the world, I have long been an admirer of Japan, a country that has achieved an exemplary balance between its timeless culture and technological modernity.
I am a big advocate of free trade and as such it is a priority for me and my government to assist Icelandic companies in seeking new opportunities in Asia. The three strongest assets of the Icelandic economy, fish and meat products, sustainable energy and the Icelandic nature, visited by a rapidly increasing number of tourist, all offer opportunities for cooperation and trade.
Our trade with Japan in marine products is substantial but there is potential for growth. The same goes for meat products which have entered the Japanese market in the past couple of years. Japan is known as the most demanding market in the world when it comes to quality of food. This fits very well with our strengths as Iceland likes to compete on quality rather than simply price. We receive a fast-growing number of Japanese tourists, and hope to see many more visitors in the future. The Japanese are great travelers, but in Iceland we can promise you an adventure like you have never experienced before.
We import many technological products from Japan. Apart from the more usual appliances, we import technology for the energy sector, not the least for harnessing geothermal energy. This might in fact be an area for further collaboration. Increasing use of sustainable energy is of course one of the most crucial challenges facing mankind. In geothermal energy Japanese companies are world leaders. Iceland, on the other hand has harnessed this type of energy more extensively than other country in the world and our scientists have decades of experience which we have been happy to share with many other countries. Only a fraction of the potential for this source of energy has been realized in the world In Japan this is perhaps still an underutilized resource. Our experience, combined with Japanese technology, could contribute to energy solutions in many different parts of the world.
Japan is indeed one of our largest business partners outside of Europe. However, given the size of the Japanese economy, I am confident there is scope for increased trade. From our side we can sense much interest in Japan among different industries and businesses and here today we have companies representing the strongest sectors of the Icelandic economy.
Japan and Iceland are at the very opposite ends of the great Eurasian landmass and may seem far apart from one another. A closer look, however, reveals a number of similarities as well as increasingly important common concerns. We are both island nations living in proximity to unpredictable and sometimes difficult nature. In addition, climate change, particularly affecting the Artic region, is creating problems that can only be addressed through international cooperation. At the same time, there are plenty of opportunities that can only be realized through joint efforts.
The two countries are also in many ways like-minded; We share common values and principles and we are devoted to an open and rules-based global economy in accordance with highest standards. We also have a strong commitment to sustainable development, sustainable management of natural resources and the Paris climate agreement.
Iceland regards Japan as a partner on the global stage. The political ties have never been as strong, which is reflected in frequent bilateral ministerial visits and cooperation across various fields. A joint statement on strengthening of relations between Iceland and Japan was signed in Tokyo in 2014 during the official visit of the Foreign Minister of Iceland to Japan.
Another proof of this is the establishment of bilateral Chambers of Commerce in both countries, with over 50 companies from various industries as members. The two Chambers set a good example by working closely together. I am confident this will further strengthen opportunities for growth of business cooperation between our countries.
Lastly, I would like to highlight that last January I signed a convention on elimination of double taxation with Japan’s Ambassador in Iceland, Mr. Kitagawa. This is an important step in improving business ties between our countries. The agreement will come into force in the beginning of next year and is expected to contribute to further promising trade and investment. During my visit we will finalize an agreement on working permits for young citizens of both countries. We also hope that Japan will open up to Iceland in other areas. We have discussed a bilateral trade agreement and air services agreement which would put our trade relations on a new level, and further open up for much more possibilities of doing business. For both of our countries, free and rule-based global trade is essential, and we look forward to further strengthening our bilateral ties.
One of the aims of the government of Iceland is to work with companies in seeking good business partners in the fast-rising markets of Asia. Japan is not only our largest market in Asia, but we also see Japan as a gateway to other parts of the continent.
I would like to thank JETRO and Promote Iceland for organising this event today and wish you a productive business seminar. After we are done I hope you will have time to join me, and the business delegation from Iceland, at the reception taking place afterwards.