Report to the Althing
Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade
November 14, 2000
Icelandic society is characterised by stability and a general consensus on the principal aspects of the country's foreign policy. There is a great unity of purpose regarding our participation in Nordic co-operation, in the defence co-operation within NATO and with the United States, within the United Nations and numerous other organisations concerned with European and international affairs. Increased globalisation and the growing role of international trade and other issue areas in the progress and prosperity of nations call for new emphasis. Support for the expansion of Icelandic enterprises across borders, development aid and peacekeeping work are three clear examples of new tasks requiring time and resources. The Overseas Business Service of the Foreign Ministry has been strengthened to enable the Service to cope with the increased marketing work and to support Icelandic enterprises, which are expanding into foreign markets with greater force and in greater variety than ever before.
Through the increased contribution of Iceland to peacekeeping efforts abroad, we show our resolve to participate actively in the efforts of the United Nations, NATO, OSCE and EU to preserve peace and stability and to prevent military conflict. The same is true of Iceland's increased contribution to development aid through which we lend our support to the struggle against poverty and injustice. Our efforts in these areas represent our contribution to the creation of a better future for all Mankind.
The shape of the world has changed in important respects in the space of a few years, and like other nations we must take account of this fact here in Iceland. The world has become a single tapestry where the destinies of nations are woven together by a technology that knows no borders and no bounds.
The end of the Cold War has, unfortunately not, realised our brightest hopes for an end to war and conflict. We need only look at the situation in the Balkans and the Middle East for confirmation of this. Apart from participation in defence and security, the new times call for reaction to various new threats which we need to give more of our attention than before, e.g. the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, terrorist activities, the oppression of minority groups and ethnic strife, to mention only a few examples. Military spending in the world is still enormous, amounting to 809 billion US dollars last year according to data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). In my speech in the UN General Assembly last autumn, I emphasised that the nations of the world should try in the future to ensure their security with a minimum of armament. Obviously, these massive amounts of money could be used for positive development in the world; there is no shortage of misery.
It is safe to say that Iceland's work in preserving its interests abroad has become increasingly complex and wider in scope, and in recent years, the Foreign Service has had to adapt to changed circumstances. The distinction between foreign affairs on the one hand and domestic affairs on the other is constantly becoming more blurred as foreign affairs intrude into more and more areas of Icelandic society.
Embassies will be opened next year in Tokyo, Ottawa and Vienna in order to take on new tasks. In Vienna there is already a permanent delegation to the OSCE and the organisations of the UN. The plan is for this delegation to become the Icelandic embassy to Austria and later other countries as well. The embassy in Tokyo is intended to strengthen our political, commercial and cultural ties with Japan. The embassy in Canada will, apart from traditional activities relating to political, commercial and cultural relations, have the role of increasing still further our ties with Canadians of Icelandic descent. Both Japan and Canada will open embassies in Iceland next year on a reciprocal basis. There are also plans to open an office in Maputo in Mozambique, next year. The opening of this last office is one of the stages in stepping up the Icelandic contribution to development co-operation, which has been concentrated primarily in southern Africa.
I cannot possibly cover all these aspects of foreign affairs in my address today. On the occasion of my spring address last April, I submitted a detailed report on international affairs. At the same time, a report was submitted on the situtation of Iceland in the European co-operation. Both reports have been discussed since, and I refer to them as regards the issues that relate to their substance.
During the last decade, Icelanders began participating in crisis management and peacekeeping activities of international organisations, in particular NATO and the OSCE. This participation has been gradually increased, and at any given time about ten Icelanders are involved in peacekeeping work in Bosnia and Kosovo. Since 1994, a total of 50 individuals have been involved in peacekeeping work for Iceland in Bosnia and Kosovo, mostly police officers, doctors and nurses.
The experience of this participation has been favourable. The people employed for the peacekeeping work have performed well.
Icelanders are bound to participate actively in peacekeeping activities like other countries; the effort to maintain peace and stability is everybody's business. Membership of NATO, the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe also entails obligations for Iceland to do its fair share to cope with the problems that come up.
In order to strengthen Iceland's participation in international peace operations, the Government decided to form a panel of experts from four ministries with a mandate to develop and submit proposals on the matter. The panel put forward a report containing its proposals last October.
The Government has now discussed the panel's report. The decision has been made to increase Iceland's participation in international peace operations with the aim to be able to contribute a certain number of individuals for such activities when the need arises. The plan is that within the next 2-3 years up to 25 people will be able to participate in peace operations. With the increased participation and on the basis of the experience gained, it is proposed that the number could be increased to 50. Various professions are involved, such as police officers, engineers, doctors and nurses, lawyers, management experts and technical personnel.
Under the heading of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit a roster will be compiled of approximately 100 people who are willing to join in international missions at short notice. The Icelandic Crisis Response Unit will be under the supervision of the Department for Political Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, which will be responsible for the hiring, preparation and training of personnel and general supervision of its activities.
It must be emphasised that we are not embarking on an entirely new course in these matters. Considerable experience has been gained in recent years regarding Icelandic participation in peace operations. Now we are planning to increase this participation, and in order to do so, crisis management and peacekeeping needs to be given a permanent place within the government.
Human Rights, Refugees and Humanitarian Aid, Development Aid
Human rights are universal, and it the responsibility of the entire international community to ensure that they are respected. We emphasise that human rights must be ensured all over the world, i.a. on the basis of the Human Rights Declaration of the United Nations and international human rights agreements. Iceland has particularly emphasised the rights of women and children, and this has been made clear in the position we have taken in the General Assembly and Human Rights Council of the United Nations. This position has also been emphasised by Icelandic representatives in discussions with representatives of other countries, such and China and India. We should continue to position ourselves at the forefront of those nations who are striving for a general understanding of the fact that systematic violations of human rights will not be tolerated.
Iceland has attempted to contribute its fair share to emergency aid and efforts to solve the refugee problem, which is a serious and increasingly urgent international problem. It is quite clear that the refugee problem will not be solved without the co-operation of all countries. The conditions of refugees who have been forced to abandon their homes are such that they must be given the protection they need and temporary asylum until conditions in the areas from which they have been displaced have changed in such a way that they can return to their homes and enjoy the safety to which they are entitled. Iceland was among the first nations to react to the enormous refugee problem created in the wake of the conflict in Kosovo. As before, we have enjoyed good co-operation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in our acceptance of refugees. Iceland must continue to be prepared to host a certain number of refugees.
The campaign to relieve the debts of the poorest countries in the world (the HIPC Campaign) is probably the most ambitions attempt ever made to rescue the poorest countries of the world from the vicious cycle of borrowing and servicing debts which has been wreaking havoc on their economies in recent years. The campaign was launched in 1996, partly on the initiative of the Nordic countries when Iceland represented the Nordic and Baltic states on the Development Committee of the World Bank. At the Annual General Meeting of the Bank last year, the decision was made to redouble the effort and devote even more funds to the campaign than previously proposed. At that time, a decision was made on an Icelandic contribution of approximately ISK 200 million. The first payment of three has already been made; subsequent payments will be made in the next two years. It is assumed that 30 of the poorest countries in the world will receive assistance amounting to a total of approximately 50 billion US dollars. In order to be eligible for such assistance the governments of these poor countries need to meet certain conditions, namely that the people living in the most abject deprivation must reap the benefit of the assistance in due course. In other words, the windfall created by the debt relief is to be used for the benefit of the poorest people, e.g. in the area of education, health and employment. 10 countries have already submitted economic plans that meet the conditions. It is assumed that another 10 countries will have submitted such plans and received approval before the end of this year.
As mentioned earlier, the scope of activities of the Icelandic Development Agency (Iceida) has grown substantially in recent years. I have recently signed, on behalf of the Agency, a co-operation agreement with Uganda, which is a new partner. The Agency will have a permanent employee and an office in Kampala as of the turn of the year. The first projects will no doubt be in the area of fisheries, as usual. As the same time that the Agency begins work in Uganda, the co-operation agreement with Cape Verde will expire. However, the Agency will continue to provide aid to Cape Verde for limited projects.
Iceida will continue to operate in Mozambique, Malawi and Namibia. The Agency has also supported the reconstruction work in East Timor, which has also submitted a request for assistance in the construction of a fishing harbour. I have discussed the reconstruction work with Mr. Jose Ramos Horta on three occasions this year, first in Warsaw, then during his visit to Iceland last summer, and finally at the Annual General Meeting of the World Bank this autumn.
Our excellent co-operation with the United Nations University continues to grow and thrive. The third group of students has now been registered in the United Nations University Fisheries Training Programme, which was established in 1998, and the United Nations University Geothermal Training Programme, established in 1979, held its 22nd graduation this autumn. It is safe to say that there is general satisfaction with these training programmes within the UN University, and experience has shown that those who have attended the programmes have been trusted with greater responsibilities on their homecoming. That is the whole purpose.
Recently, the Foreign Ministry concluded an agreement with the New Business Venture Fund and the Icelandic Development Agency on what we have chosen to call trade development. The idea is to assist Icelandic companies in discovering business opportunities in the developing countries. This work is connected with our co-operation with the World Bank, which has expressed an interest in co-operating with enterprises in these countries on economic development in the developing countries. Icelandic enterprises have much to offer in the developing countries, not only in fisheries, but in numerous other fields as well. The Icelandic industries possess a great deal of dynamism and know-how, and we should share this with the poorer countries for the benefit of all concerned.
As the state holding the chair of EFTA, Iceland has the role of representing the EFTA/EEA states in relations with the European Union (EU), especially in matters relating to the EEA Agreement. Recently, the EU Commission has been taking a firmer line and pointed out that when the EFTA states refrain from integrating community decisions into the EEA Agreement, this can have the effect of invalidating parts of the EEA Agreement. This position taken by the Commission is largely a result of the delays in incorporating into the agreement certain directives on trading in gas, several acts relating to food additives and the granting of patents in biotechnology.
Opposition to these acts has been greatest in Norway, but now the Norwegian Government has agreed to review its position, and the prospects of finding a solution in due course have improved. In addition, the Commission has in recent weeks given Liechtenstein serious warnings regarding proposed road tolls in that country, which the Commission regards as contrary to the rules of the European Economic Area.
Negotiations are in progress regarding possible solutions. In both cases, the Commission has seen reason to point out certain provisions which up to now have been regarded as last-resort provisions and have never been formally invoked. All efforts have been made to direct these disputes into the correct channels, and it appears that these efforts are proving successful. The attention of the Commission regarding hitches in the implementation of the Agreement has not been focused on Iceland recently after it was agreed at the last session of the Althing to remove reservations that had been made. This does not mean that all is well, however, as numerous comments have been received from the ESA regarding the implementation of legislation already in the Agreement and being processed in the ministries. Numerous acts still remain to be translated into Icelandic and published. A plan of action has now been decided to remedy these matters before the end of next year.
Even though the EEA Agreement is a solid foundation and there is no evidence that the European Union is shirking its obligations under the Agreement, the EFTA states believe that the Agreement can be used in a more efficient manner to ensure conformity in the Area and present the views of the EFTA/EEA states more efficiently. Work has been in progress on ensuring dissemination of the viewpoints and opinions of the EFTA states within the administrative organs of the EU. EU employees have been invited to attend seminars on the EEA Agreement, and ways are being sought to strengthen informal relations and exchanges of information with the European Parliament. According to recent studies, 82% of the amendments proposed by the European Parliament find their way into the final text of EU Acts, so that monitoring that process has become an essential part in the development of roles.
The Intergovernmental Conference currently in progress is intended to adapt the organs of the EU to the increased number of Member States, i.e. the 12-13 states that have now taken up a position at the EU's doorstep. The number of issues requiring unanimity will be reduced during the current Intergovernmental Conference, although there are not likely to be any substantial changes, e.g. in taxation or social affairs. In all probability some changes will be made in voting power which will strengthen the position of the larger states. Also, decisions will be made on the size of the Commission and the division of tasks within the Commission. Rules on how certain member states can co-operate among themselves without involving all member states will be established and discussions will be held on the means of dealing with potential human rights violations in the member states, i.e. the recourses available to the institutional framework of the EU in dealing with such matters. Because of the importance of the Commission as a partner in the EEA system, it is in the interests of the EEA/EFTA states that the Commission maintain a strong position. It will also be interesting to see whether the option will be kept open in the future for the EFTA/EEA states to participate in expanded co-operation of certain member states, as Iceland and Norway are now participating in Schengen, in more areas than the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Even though the number of issues regarded as finalised in the negotiations between the EU and applicant states is growing constantly, the opinion is being voiced more and more often that the will is still lacking to cut the knots in the most difficult issues, e.g. agriculture, the free movement of people, judicial matters and internal affairs and environmental affairs. It is maintained that this will not happen until it is possible to decide the actual time when the applicant states become member states. If a conclusion can be reached at the Intergovernmental Conference in Nice, it is likely that increased vigour will be injected into the membership talks under the leadership of Sweden in the first half of next year. It is an urgent matter to increase the access of the EFTA/EEA states to the enlargement process now that preparations are being concluded and actual negotiations on adaptation and adaptation deadlines are about to begin. New member states are under obligation to apply for membership of the EEA, as part of the rights and obligations that they undertake on their accession to the EU. It is difficult to imagine that this will be on any terms other than those negotiated between the EU and the states in question. I have therefore stressed in my discussions with the EU, e.g. in the course of meetings with Mr. Verheugen, who is responsible on behalf of the Commission for the enlargement negotiations, that the EFTA/EEA states should be allowed to monitor these negotiations as closely as possible and given opportunities and good time to submit comments and proposals.
Work will be continued on monitoring as closely as possible the developments within the European Union and the effects of those developments on Iceland's position. The EU is in a state of continual change which requires vigilance and constant work to secure Iceland's interests. The Foreign Ministry will continue its efforts to disseminate information on this work to the best of its ability in order to provide as good a foundation as possible for active and enlightened discussion s on Iceland's position in Europe.
Negotiations are scheduled for the near future on membership of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in Lisbon and EUROPOL in the Hague. Preparations have also begun for negotiations on Iceland's Participation in EASA, the European Aviation Safety Authority. The EFTA/EEA States are participants in the discussions of the EU and applicant states on a Single European Sky intended to co-ordinate rules within Europe before the enlargement of the EU becomes a reality. The implementation of the Schengen Agreement is progressing relatively well, and negotiations are currently in progress on the involvement of Iceland and Norway in the co-operation of the EU states on political asylum on the basis of the Dublin Agreement. All of this bears witness to the fact that negotiations are constantly in progress, inside and outside the framework of the EEA Agreement, with the purpose of ensuring Iceland's involvement in the European co-operation.
The member states of the European Free Trade Association have jointly concluded free trade agreements with 15 states. For example, negotiations led by Iceland with Mexico on free trade were recently brought to a successful conclusion. The agreement will be signed later this month. In addition, negotiations are in progress with Canada, the Jordan, Cyprus, Croatia, Egypt and Tunisia. Free trade negotiations between EFTA and Chile are scheduled to begin in December of this year. There are also plans to open negotiations with South Africa and other states.
One of the basic principles of EFTA is that no free trade agreements are concluded unless they cover fish products as well as industrial products. The EFTA co-operation on the conclusion of free-trade agreements are therefore extremely important to Iceland as it ensures market access for Icelandic products to foreign markets which we would be unable to secure on our own.
European Co-operation on Security and Defence
Relations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union have recently become one of the principal issues of the Organisation. It is clear to everyone that the European states need to contribute more to their common security. The plans of the EU to increase its military capacity is in some respects a part of that effort. Iceland has expressed its support for increased responsibility of the European states in the security and defence co-operation, but at the same time emphasised the necessity of preserving the unity of the member states of NATO.
In the ongoing discussions on European security and defence, it has been our main goal to ensure that account is taken of Iceland's full membership of NATO and associate membership of the WEU. Thus, we have asked the EU to clarify further to what extent the Union intends to take account of the European member states of NATO who are not members of the EU, i.e. the states that the EU itself offered associate membership of the WEU. Even though the EU took a step in the right direction at the Council meeting in Feira in June, it is hoped that the Union will take even greater account of the requests submitted for a real role in the formulation of the decisions of the Union on security and defence in Europe.
The future of the Western European Union (WEU) is somewhat uncertain at present as a result of the new policy of the European Union on security and defence. It is clear that at the turn of the year the Union will be dissolved in its present form and most of its tasks transferred to the European Union.
The issues of the organisations were the subject of discussion at the ministerial meeting of the WEU in Marseilles yesterday, and will be clarified further at the EU Summit in Nice in December, where the final decisions on the adaptation of the activities of the WEU will in all probability be taken.
It is probable that a certain transitional period will be decided in respect of the termination of the activities of the WEU. The work of the military personnel of the WEU headquarters will be reduced still further and there will be reductions in the staff. However, there are no plans to invalidate the Brussels agreement or to dismantle the WEU entirely, and Article V of the Treaty on the defence commitments of the of the ten member states will remain in effect, but it is likely that the WEU will exist for the sake of appearances to preserve the Treaty without any visible activities.
The Defence Co-operation with the United States
The policy of the Icelandic government in recent years has been to increase the role of Iceland in the bilateral defence co-operation with the United States and in the multinational defence co-operation with the member states of the Partnership for Peace. In addition to the decision on the construction of a Coast Guard vessel equipped to participate in joint exercises with the US Defence Force involving Search and Rescue operations and maritime surveillance, the Foreign Ministry, the Icelandic Civil Defence, Coast Guard and the State Police Special Forces have participated in exercises such as Northern Viking and the Civil Defence Exercise Co-operative Safeguard, which was held under the supervision of the Icelandic Civil Defence last summer.
Recently, discussions were held between high-ranking officials and experts on certain aspects of the defence co-operation, such as the arrangements of contracting for the defence force and access to the defence areas. These discussions have progressed well, and considerable success has been achieved.
Nordic Co-operation and Neighbouring Areas
The importance of Nordic co-operation for Iceland is indisputable, and I need not dwell on the subject here at the Althing. The debate last week on the policy and organisation of the Nordic co-operation in the new century, the so-called "Report on the Future" was extensive and interesting, as might have been expected, as there is much of interest in the report. The report was prepared on the initiative of Iceland, and I am confident that it will provide a good basis for the reinforcement of the Nordic Council and its increased integration with other international organisations, especially within the EU.
In 1994, I joined the current Finance minister of Iceland and the Prime Minister of Finland in submitting a recommendation to the Nordic Council on the establishment of a Nordic Information Office in Brussels. It proved impossible to reach a consensus on the recommendation, as it was not regarded as appropriate for the Nordic Countries to approach the EU as a single entity. The Report on the Future reveals a new attitude in this respect, and many Nordic politicians appear to have changed their minds. It is a clear advantage for Iceland if the Nordic countries work as closely together as possible in the international fora, but with the increasing work of the EU, this has changed.
The three Baltic States are working ever more closely with the Nordic countries. The proposal discussed at the meeting of the Nordic Council on the membership of these three states in the Nordic Council was not supported, and in fact it is not appropriate as yet. The work of the Nordic Council is based on a common history, language and culture of the Nordic countries, and therefore the basis for the work of the Council would change radically if the three Baltic States became members. Nevertheless, the co-operation of the Nordic countries with the Baltic countries will no doubt continue to increase. Recently, the decision was made to refer to the joint meetings of the ministers of the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States as the meeting of the "eight" rather than the meetings of the "five plus three". Co-operation with the Baltic States on an even footing within the Nordic Council could also take place in certain demarcated areas according to the Report on the Future, which recommends that the Baltic States be invited membership of the Nordic Industrial Bank (NIB). It is a matter of satisfaction to be able to report that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will soon be able to wind up its work in Estonia and Latvia, as the human rights situation in the two countries is now in conformity with their international undertakings.
It is now one year since the Nordic Embassy Complex in Berlin was opened. During this year, the Nordic embassies in Berlin have enjoyed good co-operation. Participation in this co-operation has great benefits for Iceland. All the embassies are committed to continuing this Nordic co-operation in the future and expanding it. The cultural and promotional work of the Nordic States in Germany has increased substantially since the opening of the Nordic embassy complex, as the number of visitors is substantial, which offers excellent opportunities for the promotion of Nordic culture.
The report on international affairs published last April gives an account of the activities of the three councils of the neighbouring region, the Baltic Council, the Arctic Council and the Barents Council, as well as the northern dimension of the European Union. At the meeting of the European Council in Feira in June, the European Union approved a plan of action based on the northern dimension. This plan has been welcomed by Iceland, as it touches upon numerous important issues in our region of the world which require urgent attention, and so this contribution by the European Union is a matter of great satisfaction. The northern dimension is relevant to the regional co-operation in the Barents Council and the Baltic Council in many ways. Iceland has long emphasised the need for relations with the Arctic Council as well, and that matter is progressing in a quite satisfactory manner.
It is crucial for the future well-being and the stability of the continent for the political and economic changes taking place in Russia over the past decade to continue, so that the reconstruction of the Russian economy becomes a reality and democracy takes solid root. It must be kept in mind that it is a weak Russia ? a Russia on the brink of economic, political and military collapse ? that is cause for concern, not a prosperous Russia with a market economy and democratic government. Iceland gives all the support it can to all changes and policies which we believe to be conducive to economic reconstruction and democratic reform in Russia.
The United Nations
In its work within the United Nations, Iceland has placed primary importance on the law of the sea andhuman rights. Discussion on ocean issues has increased, and it is of particular importance for Icelanders to involve themselves actively in this discussion. We must guard our interests and make sure that international measures in this area are based on realism.
Although much progress has been made in the area of human rights within the United Nations, there is much work to be done. In many countries, governments are proving reluctant to work toward the advancement of human rights within their borders. Iceland's contribution to the activities of UNIFEM in Kosovo are consistent with our emphasis on women's and children's issues.
The International Criminal Court
Last year, Iceland became the tenth state to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Court, which will be based in The Hague, has the role of trying individuals accused of committing the most serious crimes against humanity, i.e. the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The International Criminal Court is a permanent institution with general jurisdiction, and thereby different from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which have limited temporal and spatial jurisdiction. A total of 22 countries have now ratified the Rome Statute, which will enter into force two months following ratification by 60 states. Work is currently in progress in the Ministry of Justice on preparing a legislative bill on the implementation of the Statute in Iceland; the bill will be submitted during the current session of the Althing.
Four countries, Iceland, Denmark on behalf of the Faeroe Islands, the United Kingdom and Ireland, have claimed continental shelf rights in the Hatton Rockall area. These parties need to reach an agreement on the delimitation of the area between themselves or on declaring the area a joint exploitation area. Also, a conclusion needs to be reached on the determination of the outer limits of the continental shelf taking into account the recommendations of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. We feel that it is time to renew consultations between the parties to the Hatton Rockall issue in order to review the position, and on our initiative bilateral consultations were begun with the United Kingdom last spring. The consultations were useful and will be continued this winter. It is clear to both parties, however, that in order to reach an agreement on the matter Denmark, on behalf of the Faeroe Islands, and Ireland will need to be involved.
Ocean Issues in the United Nations
Interest in ocean issues is growing rapidly in the General Assembly of the United Nations. This is in many ways a positive development, as international co-operation on the protection of the oceans is a matter of crucial interest to Iceland. On the other hand, there have been cases of individual industrial countries wishing to discuss fisheries in the General Assembly and to tell other countries, especially fisheries countries, what to do. This is a dangerous trend and one that we must monitor carefully and oppose.
Vigorous fisheries management at home together with an international effort to abolish state subsidies in fisheries are the key to ensuring continued sustainable utilisation of marine resources.
International Fisheries Agreements
It is a matter of satisfaction that an agreement has been reached on fisheries from the Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock next year. We would have preferred if the recommendation of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea had been followed and fisheries limited to 753 thousand tons. A consensus could not be reached on such a conclusion between the coastal states, however, so that a catch of 850 thousand tons will be permitted next year. This is an acceptable conclusion, but it is important not to overexploit the stock as in previous/earlier (verið er að tala um 7. áratuginn) years, when overfishing had the result that fishing from the stock was interrupted for a quarter of a century.
The importance of blue whiting fisheries has grown greatly this year. On 20 October, the total catch had reached 216 thousand tons, which is three times the catch of 1998. Despite numerous meetings, the coastal states involved in fishing from the blue whiting stock have been unable to agree on management of the fisheries; the matter is scheduled for discussion at the annual meeting of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission in London next week.
Our goal is to reach an agreement on these fisheries, like other fisheries, but so far our rights have been grossly underestimated, so that there are no grounds for optimism regarding a solution in the near future.
The Kyoto Protocol
Yesterday, the last preparatory meeting for the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began in The Hague. The Conference is scheduled to last all next week. Important decisions will be made regarding the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The industrial states have declared that unless a conclusion is reached on trading in emission quotas at the Conference they will not ratify the Protocol. None of the OECD countries have ratified the Protocol, but their ratification is a precondition for the entry into force of the Protocol.
Among the issues on the agenda of the Conference of Parties is the so-called "Icelandic provision". The Icelandic Government has declared that Iceland will not ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless an acceptable conclusion can be reached on the issue. The Icelandic delegation at the Conference in The Hague, led by the Minister for the Environment, will endeavour to bring about such a conclusion so that the rational utilisation of our clean and renewable energy sources can continue to provide the basis for progress in Iceland.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Iceland currently represents the Nordic countries in the FAO Council. Through the reinforcement of the Icelandic Permanent mission to FAO, Iceland has become an active participant in the international co-operation in this area.
In co-operation with FAO, the Icelandic Government is preparing an international conference on responsible fisheries in the ecosystem. The preparations are proceeding according to schedule and over six-hundred participants are expected to attend the conference from most of the member states of FAO.
The Fisheries department of FAO and the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) are among of the most important international fora in fisheries matters. Iceland's participation in the committees and meetings of the Fisheries Department is important. Among the projects in progress is a convention on Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Also, a consensus is being sought on whether the rules of CITES on endangered species are suitable for the registration of utilisable species in the sea, and a study is being conducted on government subsidies in fisheries.
The Middle East ? Asia
Our immediate surroundings ? Europe ? are most important to us. For that reason I have now, as before, concentrated here on our interests in that region. But it is important also to look in other directions and further afield.
For most of this century the political process in the Middle East has been characterised by conflict and strife. The peace process in the Middle East which began with the Oslo Accord seven years ago appears to have ground to a halt. The peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have gone astray and it is difficult to see how they can be brought back on track. The inflexible position taken by the conflicting parties has led to horrifying violence and cruelty. There will be no fairness in this region of the world until the Israelis and the Palestinians regard each other as equals and Jerusalem is placed under some kind of international control.
The responsibility of Israel is great, although we severely condemn the violent acts of both sides. The mutual trust has vanished and it will take a long time to rebuild. Before that happens there can be no hope of a permanent peace in the Middle East.
We should bear in mind that in our own history there are examples of events on the other side of the world having a direct impact on trends in foreign and security policy. This was the case, for instance, in the Korean War which broke out fifty years ago and gave rise to serious fears among western countries. The current news from that region of the world is quite different, fortunately. Indeed, the events on the Korean Peninsula are among the most satisfying international developments of the recent past. The summit meeting of North and South Korea last July was a milestone. The meetings which have since followed will no doubt reinforce the positive trend.
On a recent state visit to India, the official delegation was joined by a trade delegation composed of the representatives of eighteen Icelandic companies. During the visit, several business conferences were held in co-operation with Indian organisations. There is a clear mutual interest in increased trade between the two countries. A number of Indian enterprises, over two hundred, attended the conferences and held discussions with the representatives of the Icelandic companies. Already, substantial co-operation has begun, especially in the field of innovation such as software creation and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.
The need for knowledge of local conditions is making increasing demands on the Foreign Service, and Icelandic companies are already taking participation by the Foreign Service in the expansion of Icelandic enterprises for granted. It is therefore important for us to consider by what means we can assist our industries in their attempts to make inroads into these parts of the world in the future.
Following the conclusion of rounds of negotiations with almost 40 states, including the United States and the Member States of the European Union, it is now expected that China will become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) within a few months. The Chinese themselves have been putting increasing work into amending their legislation and adapting it to the requirements of the WTO. Enterprises across the world are waiting expectantly for China's accession, including Icelandic enterprises who perceive opportunities for increased trade, especially in fisheries and energy. An agreement has already been concluded between China and Iceland on various tariff reductions which will be implemented no later than 2004. The Foreign Service has also been engaged in other work in preparation for increased trade in products and services with China; among other things, agreements were signed recently in preparation of two major geothermal projects in the Beijing area.
The member states of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have in recent months been trying to agree on the continuation of the WTO negotiations after failing to launch a round of negotiations in Seattle a year ago.
The WTO agreements on trade in agricultural products and services provide that the Member States shall begin their review this year; this review has begun. At this point it is impossible to predict where the review will take us, but the objectives are clear, i.e. to improve market access and reduce state aid.
It is Iceland's hope that the member states will reach an agreement on commencing a new round of negotiations on reviewing as many aspects of the WTO agreements as possible. With this in mind, the representatives of Iceland at the WTO have placed great stress on following up on Iceland's proposal on rules prohibiting state subsidies of fisheries, which are damaging for the environment and detrimental to trade. The proposal enjoys widespread support and now, when there is doubt regarding the continuation of the negotiations and the direction of the WTO agreements, it is important for Iceland to keep the matter alive and ensure that the ground that has been gained is not lost.
This 60th anniversary year of the Foreign Service has provided a welcome opportunity to give the rural community in Iceland a better insight into the work of the Service. A photograph exhibition which formally opened in the National and University Library on 10 April last has now been set up in other parts of Iceland and it is scheduled to travel further. Particular emphasis has been placed on promoting the opportunities that the Foreign Service can offer to export companies across the country.
This autumn there has been considerable discussion on the opening of the new embassies in Japan and Canada. This debate has concentrated almost exclusively on the cost of buying office and residential premises. This is in many ways understandable, as the amounts in question are substantial. The fact is, however, that buying premises in these countries is undoubtedly the most economical course and will lead to lower housing costs in the long term than renting.
Work has been in progress this year on the final stages of setting up a computerised case filing system in all the Icelandic embassies and permanent delegations. This project has been in progress for three years and has the objective of introducing paper-free communications in the Foreign Service and improving efficiency and effectiveness in a complex interplay involving numerous participants. It would not be far from the truth to say that the Icelandic Foreign Service is at the forefront in the world in this area of information technology and in fact the foreign services of other countries have sent representatives to Iceland to acquaint themselves with the system. The software is the same as the software used in other ministries, but it has been adapted to the needs of the Foreign Service.
Work is also in progress on making the Foreign Service Website into an even more powerful tool to disseminate information on the activities of the Foreign Service and on Icelandic issues. The finishing touches are being applied to a co-ordinated home page for all the Icelandic diplomatic missions abroad, which will become one of the windows of the Web-World on Iceland.
New ways are constantly being sought of economising in the operation of the Foreign Service in order to get the best possible results from limited funds. To give an example, the increase in the budget allocation to the Foreign Ministry headquarters next year will be lower than the rise in the price index, which means a real-term reduction in funding. This is dangerous, because it is important for the Ministry Headquarters to become stronger as the number of diplomatic missions increases. Only that way can the head office of the Ministry perform its role of co-ordinating the work of the diplomatic missions and thus controling the progress and implementation of Iceland's foreign policy.
The agenda to commemorate the discovery of America was extensive, both in the U.S.A. and Canada. About 250 events were organised throughout the United States and about 200 in Canada. This was without a doubt the biggest promotion of Iceland and Icelandic culture ever undertaken in America. The Leifur Eiríksson Millennium Commission did excellent work on this massive promotional campaign in co-operation with the Foreign Ministry, the Icelandic embassy in Washington, the Consulate General in Winnipeg and numerous other parties. It must be acknowledged in this context that this enormous project was undertaken in good co-operation with numerous parties in the United States, and I would especially like to mention the co-operation with the Millennium Committee of the White House. Good co-operation was also achieved with many other important institutions, as well as Iceland's consuls across the United States.
Of the individual events, the most prominent was of course the voyage of the Viking ship Íslendingur to Greenland, Canada and the United States under the command of Mr. Gunnar Marel Eggertsson and his crew. I would like to thank Mr. Eggertsson for his magnificent achievement for Iceland and the Leifur Eiríksson Millennium Commission for its ambitious agenda and magnificent success.
It is important now to sit back and examine the best way to follow up on the success achieved in the United States and to take advantage of the fair winds Iceland is now enjoying. The mandate of the Leifur Eiríksson Millennium Commission ends next January and we need to decide whether some sort of extension would be in our interest. The Foreign Service, for its part, will follow up on this success.
When the Embassy in Ottawa is opened, the Consulate General in Winnipeg will be transformed into a trade and cultural office. One of its main tasks will be to supervise relations with people of Icelandic descent in the Western World. There is great interest among these people in strengthening still further the ties with Iceland. There is also great interest in reorganising activities in North America. The Icelandic Emigration Centre in Hofsós (Vesturfarasetur) is a service centre for people of Icelandic descent in North America and its activities are an important element in strengthening still further our ties with people of Icelandic ancestry in North America. The Government stresses the importance of supporting this work and has supported the development of the centre in Hofsós.
Iceland's participation in Expo 2000 in Hannover in Germany was a great success. Of the 18 million people who visited the exposition, 4.6 million visited the Icelandic pavilion, a far greater number than anticipated by the most optimistic forecasts. Only the German pavilion received a greater number of visitors. The Icelandic pavilion gave a positive image of the country and the nation and bore witness to the originality, know-how and ingenuity that is so important to a trading partner like Germany.
Mr. Speaker: It has never been more obvious than now just how important an efficient foreign service is for the interests of Iceland. Globalisation is the principal driving force of progress and the world is engaged in international competition on issues which are vital to the interests of our nation. It is our duty to attend to these interests and give them our full attention, and to do so we need a strong foreign service.