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Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Business Dealings in Japan

Address by Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at a Seminar on Business Dealings in Japan
5 October 2001
(Partly in Icelandic)


Ambassador, dear guests.

I would like to start by thanking Ambassador Kawai for co-hosting this seminar on how to do business with Japan. We have highly appreciated, your efforts during your tenure as Ambassador of Japan to Iceland, promoting the relations between Iceland and Japan. Allow me also to use this opportunity to thank you for making this Japan day a successful event.
Iceland and Japan may at first seem to be two worlds a part with little in common. Closer scrutiny will demonstrate that we have more in common than many believe.
Firstly, we are island states and although different in size both countries have very advanced economics. Both have learned to live with forceful elements of nature. Both are volcanic countries and have adjusted to forces of nature. Harvesting geothermal energy is common to both countries. Sustainable utilisation of marine resources is important to both countries and there are not many countries that we Icelanders can share our sentiments as regards the sustainable usage of marine mammals. It will take us some time but we believe that we will eventually convince the rest of the world about our cause. Both states share similar understanding as regards the importance of sustainable agriculture, food security etc. Seafood is very important to our diet and both have historic tradition for eating sea weed, which is not so common in other parts of the world.
Life expectacy in both countries ranks the highest or among the highest in the world. We are both nations proud of our language and cultural heritage.
And similarities can even be found in areas such as the architecture of furniture. Coulors of our furniture may be different but closer scrutiny will reveal that the minimalistic approach is common both by the Nordic nations and Japan. We have learned how to make simple approch, very attractive. I could go on discussing our similarities but I will stop here.

Trade with Japan is very important to us and even though trade between Japan and Iceland has flourished, we are of the view that we can increase our trade significantly. We have good experience in our fish export, but we can in my view expand the areas of trade significantly. I can for example mention technical equipment for food processing, where Iceland has in my view a lot to offer. I would like to briefly touch on one subject which is of common importance to both Iceland and Japan. Yesterday, we finished here in Reykjavík a landmark international conference on fisheries. The conference was held under the title Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem. It was attended by representatives from about 75 countries, including almost all of the top 20 fisheries nations, including of course a high level delegation from Japan. The aim of the conference was to bring together world-renowned scientists and governmental officials to examine the question: what can and can not be done to incorporate ecosystem considerations into fisheries management.

To me this was a landmark conference, not only because of the large attendance of fisheries nations to discuss common issues, but also because these countries issued for the first time an explicit declaration to take the ecosystem more systematically into account in the management of living marine resources. The Reykjavík Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem will not only guide the future work of the Food and Agriculture Organization, but will be an input of the fisheries nations to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year.
Iceland and Japan have many common interests regarding fisheries. Our co-operation has always been fruitful and that indeed was the case during the conference. I am confident that the two nations will continue their close co-operation in this area in the coming years.

Iceland is situated between two continents of Europe and the US and we believe our location could have strategic value for investment purposes. We also enjoy one of the rear nature pearls of Europe, which have not yet been appropriately introduced in Japan. The Embassy of Japan in Iceland, and the Embassy of Iceland in Japan, will have a challenging task ahead of them and we know already now that the enhanced co-operation will bear fruit.

Now Mr. Ambassador, I hope you will forgive me but I would like to address my countrymen in Icelandic in the second part of my statement on trade in Japan.



Góðir fundarmenn,

Það hafa ekki allir verið sammála um mikilvægi sendiráðs í Japan. Því hefur verið haldið fram af sumum að útflutningur gangi vel, og að útflytjendur sjávarafurða séu gjörkunnugir markaðnum og að íslenskt sendiráð geti litlu bætt við til að auka útflutning á sjávarafurðum til Japan.

Hins vegar eru aðrir sem hafa verið þeirrar skoðunar að stofnun sendiráðs í Japan, einu mikilvægasta ríki þessarar heimsálfu, hafi bæði að því er varðar alþjóðasamskipti og viðskipti verið löngu tímabært.
Ég hef lengi verið talsmaður síðarnefndra viðhorfa að sendiráð í Japan sé bráðnauðsynlegt. Eins og ég hef áður vikið að þá eiga löndin meira sameiginlegt en við fyrstu sýn kann að virðast og ég er engan veginn sannfærður um að ekki megi laga viðskiptaumhverfi fyrir sjávarafurðir í Japan þar sem ennþá eru tollar á mikilvægar afurðir á sama tíma og innflutningur á sjávarafurðir er tollfrjáls frá Japan til Íslands. Efla má beinar fjárfestingar í báðum ríkjum og þá þyrftu stjórnvöld í báðum löndunum, ef vel á að vera, að styðja slíka þróun. Auk þess höfum við Íslendingar í vaxandi mæli gert okkur grein fyrir að útflutningur sjávarafurða er ekki okkar eina útflutningsgrein.
Ég sé fyrir mér sóknarfæri fyrir íslenska útflytjendur s.s. á hugbúnaði, neytendavörum og síðast en ekki síst hátækni framleiðslu fyrir matvælaiðnað og stoðtæki.
Okkur hættir allt of oft til að ganga út frá því að einkafyrirtæki geti lagfært þá annmarka sem eru á viðskiptaumhverfi í viðskiptalöndum okkar. Staðreyndin er hins vegar sú að stjórnvöld geta haft mikil áhrif á umgjörð viðskipta. Ég hef áður vikið að tollamálum en einnig er mikilvægt að koma á tvísköttunarsamningi milli þjóðanna og verndun fjárfestinga samningi sem kallar á nána samvinnu og mikla undirbúningsvinnu, svo að dæmi séu nefnd.
Það hefur auk þess innan utanríkisþjónustunnar verið unnið markvisst í því að styðja við fyrirtæki og kynna afurðir þeirra erlendis. Við höfum núna sendiráð í öllum G8 löndum. Utanríkisþjónustan lýtur á sig í vaxandi mæli sem útvörð íslensks atvinnulífs á erlendri grund.
Fyrirhugaðir Japans dagar eru aðeins upphafið að því sem framundan er. Ég lýt björtum augum til framtíðar og ég vil að þið sem hér sitjið vitið að utanríkisþjónustan er tæki í ykkar þjónustu. Ég er sannfærður um að þegar fram líða stundir muni enginn efast um mikilvægi þess fyrir íslenska hagsmuni að opna sendiráðið í Japan.
Við munum á næstunni fara sameiginlega yfir þessi mál og ég trúi því að sú vinna sem framundan er verði gagnleg fyrir íslenskan útflutning.

Dear Ambassador allow me once again to thank you and the distinguished speakers for your valuable effort in making today's Japan Day and Iceland Fair in Tokyo successful.

I thank you.

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