Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests,
First of all let me welcome you to this first Iceland Business Seminar in Capetown.
I am very proud to be leading a business delegation which truly reflects the diversity and range of economic activity in Iceland. We have representatives from the financial services sector, from transport, from food processing and hightech prosthetics design – we have representatives of airlines and the tourism sector, as well as from real estate and software design.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is the responsibility of governments to provide a sound environment in which businesses can trade and thrive, both at home and internationally.
At home, the government of which I have been a member for seven years has concentrated on liberalising, deregulating, and improving the environment in which economic entrepreneurs operate. The role of the state in the economy has been significantly decreased and is now mostly limited to making and enforcing the basic rules and guidelines which all businesses must abide by.
In this connection, it is interesting to see that both Iceland and South Africa were in the top 30 out of 174 countries in the Doing Business report of the World Bank. This report looks at regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it.
We have also worked hard to ensure that our companies can operate on equal terms on world markets. We are now in the progress of ratification of the free trade agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). It is an agreement that will be phased in over nine years, but once it is fully implemented, all trade and goods between the parties will be duty-free. Iceland has already ratified the agreement.
It is a great pleasure to be a part of this very first free trade area negotiated by SACU under the new SACU agreement. I am certain of the positive influence for trade between our countries - Iceland and the four SACU countries, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesoto and Swaziland.
I hope also that we will be able to look at a number of bilateral agreements which could oil the wheels of trade between our countries – for example, an investment agreement and agreements on air traffic and double taxation.
But I do not need to tell a group of business people that the role of government in business is limited. The driving force has to come from talented entrepreneurs who have the forsight and talent to grasp the opportunities available.
The Icelandic economy has been booming in recent years, not least because of such talent. Icelandic businesses have been rapidly expanding abroad, in particular in the banking, civil aviation and the retail sectors. As a small economy dependent on trade we have had no choice but to throw ourselves into globalisation.
At the same time, businesses have responsibilities to the society in which they operate. I have followed with interest the increased emphasis and interest of Icelandic companies in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Increasing numbers of Icelandic companies voluntarily incorporate CSR in to their company policies and contribute to various causes in order to create a better society and a cleaner environment. It is a very interesting development and an indicator of the growing expectations that Icelandic citizens and stakeholders have of the evolving role and responsibilities of modern day companies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the highlights of my trip has been opening our Embassy here in South Africa. We sincerely hope that our permanent presence here will be able to assist in long-term and mutually committing partnerships between Icelandic companies and the companies of your country.
I hope my visit and the business forum yesterday will lead to growing trade and investment between our countries. I would also like to extend my thanks to all of those playing a role in organizing our visit here this week. In particular, I would like to thank ministers Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma and Dr. Rob Davies and also Mr. Terry Mahon, Chairman of Routledges, who has given the Trade Council of Iceland great support and helped make this forum a success. It has been and will be an honour to meet all of you here today.