Address by Mrs. Valgerður Sverrisdóttir,
Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade,
The Icelandic-Italian Chamber of Commerce
In Reykjavík on 18th May 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to address this Business Seminar held by the Icelandic-Italian Chamber of Commerce, and I thank the Board of the Chamber for giving me an opportunity to meet those of you who have travelled from Italy to Iceland to participate in the Italian Days in Reykjavík.
I would like to complement the Hagkaup Supermarkets for their Italian Days and their venture of starting the import of specialized products from the Grosseto area in Toscana, under the new trademark Italia. The Italian food is a pleasant addition to the Icelandic cuisine, adding Mediterranean flavor to the Northern spring. Both Italians and Icelanders like food that has regional origins and is characteristic for our countries. By continuing to produce such quality food we strengthen regional development and economic diversity, be it traditional Icelandic smoked lamb or the skyr milk product, or the famous Italian Parma ham. The so-called slow-food movement, firmly established in Italy, is now gaining ground all over the world and I, as a farmer myself, especially welcome this development.
We do not only have the liking of quality food in common, but also the liking for design and designer cloths, as well as travelling to each other´s countries. In Italy, the warm Mediterranean climate and cultural heritage attracts my countrymen, and more and more Italians travel to Iceland to enjoy the unusual and unspoilt nature. In both countries there is a great potential for developing geothermal energy, for establishing health spas, as well as for the utilization of alternative energy.
Iceland and Italy have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1945, but our trade relations rest on much older roots. The first bilateral trade agreement between us, negotiated by the future first President of Iceland, Sveinn Björnsson, was signed in 1935. Italy and Iceland have been solid trading partners for almost a century, beginning with the export of fish from Iceland to Italy. This business has flourished ever since and still our Honorary Consuls in Genova, Napoli and Rome are connected to families and companies that have traded with Iceland for generations.
The strengthening of diplomatic ties has been high on our agenda and in 2005, exactly 60 years after we established diplomatic relations, Iceland opened an embassy in Rome. The Embassy also serves as Permanent Mission to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme. Needless to say, we would welcome the opening of an Italian embassy in Reykjavík.
We have enjoyed good cooperation in the international fora, such as in the United Nations, NATO, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization, to name but few. Through Icelandic membership in the European Economic Area in 1994, we became an integral part of the European Union´s internal market - reflecting the fact that European countries have remained Iceland´s main trading partner. Membership in the Schengen Regime has further strengthened our participation in the European integration process.
Our trade volume is not large in figures but rests on a solid base. Last year, our exports to Italy accounted for 1% of our total exports, and imports from Italy amounted to 3,6% of our total imports. The trade balance is, therefore, considerably in favour of Italy. We can, however, safely assume that some of our imports into other European countries eventually find their way to Italy.
Considering these figures, I believe that we have a work to do in increasing the trade between our countries. In my mind there is no doubt that Italy has a great potential to become a more important trading partner for Iceland. For this purpose the Chamber of Commerce has a worthy role.
With fish trade and tourism firmly established as the backbone of our trade relations we should, however, explore further possibilities. I have already mentioned the slow-food movement and geothermal co-operation. Another field is design, architecture and arts. Popular music from Iceland has gained ground in Italy and the successful participation of Icelandic artists in the Venice Art Biennale and other exhibitions has attracted attention, as well as screening of Icelandic films in the Rome Film Festival and other festivals. Icelandic literature has been translated and published by such eminent publishing houses as Montadori, Iperborea and Guanda.
There are several sectors worthwhile exploring better, such as the banking and financing sectors, retail sector and even the real estate sector. A positive sign in the financial sector is the acquisition by Landsbankinn of the European brokerage company, Kepler Equities, which included the ownership of a branch in Milano. Iceland and Italy have concluded an agreement to avoid double taxation, which we hope that will soon be ratified by the Italian Parliament.
To secure successful trade, it is necessary to create a business-friendly environment. With determined policies the Government of Iceland has, in recent years, transformed the economy. Icelandic businesses have rapidly expanded abroad, particularly in banking, aviation and retail. We have benefited from the globalization and increased trade activities in distant countries. At the same time we have not shed away from moral and social responsibilities and increased our development assistance significantly, not least in co-operation with the Rome-based UN Agencies.
Systematically, we have adjusted our business framework to create the best possible conditions for foreign enterprises to operate and invest in Iceland, such as cutting the corporate tax from 30% to 18%. Iceland has much to offer foreign investors; a stable economic environment, transparent administration and high level of technology and a well educated and dedicated workforce.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish you a fruitful discussion today, and allow me to express my best wishes for the future work of the Icelandic-Italian Chamber of Commerce.