Today, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, presented his annual report on Foreign and International Affairs to Parliament. In addition to providing an overview over foreign policy issues and events in the last 12 months, it lays down detailed, forward-looking foreign policy objectives.
“The Foreign Service is the most powerful tool we have to safeguard our interests in a constantly changing world. We need to regularly sharpen this tool so that it serves its purpose,” said the Minister. A new review process of the work, priorities, and objectives of foreign policy has been launched. It is planned that the review will be completed this autumn, providing a guidepost for foreign affairs in the years to come.
In his speech the Minister touched upon four main areas: security and defence, new challenges in external trade, the importance of sustainable utilisation of natural resources and environmental affairs, and a new vision for development cooperation.
Defence and security
Within NATO, Iceland has emphasised matters pertaining to the North Atlantic and to marine safety, as well as defence planning for the area. Protection of the airspace remains unchanged, and a total of nine countries have carried out 26 air-surveillance missions since 2007. The number of civil experts working for NATO has risen, and host country support has been increased at the security area at Keflavík Airport. Participation in two extensive NATO exercises is currently underway: in summer 2017, and autumn 2018.
Among the Icelandic authorities' priority tasks in the near future are discussions on the future structure of trade relations between Iceland and the United Kingdom. An analysis is needed of the impact of Brexit and Iceland's most important interests in this context. Consultations with the British authorities, EFTA member states, and the EU has already begun.
There is a great need to strengthen Iceland's work within EFTA and the EEA. Collaboration within EFTA is a fundamental element in Iceland's trade policy. In recent years, the EFTA states have strengthened their free trade network, which now includes 38 countries. Iceland emphasises that, as soon as possible, EFTA must commence free trade negotiations with countries important for Icelandic exporters. Through EFTA, negotiations are underway with important countries, including India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and discussions with the South American Mercosur bloc are about to begin. An agreement on air transport with Israel was recently concluded and soon talks with Russia on air transport issues, including on crossing clearance will commence.
“In coming years, we must respond to all challenges and take advantage of opportunities such as those in emerging market economies in Asia, South America, and Africa. Iceland must adapt to a constantly changing world in this respect.”
Environment and the Arctic
Iceland's interests in the fight against the adverse effects of climate change lie primarily in the impact on the sea and the marine biosphere, both in nearby oceans and worldwide. This is a field of some of Iceland's most vital interest and protecting those interests is one of the cornerstones of foreign policy. There is good reason to hope that an agreement will be finalised soon in order to prevent unregulated fishing in the Arctic Ocean.
Foreign Minister Thordarson said that Iceland's presidency of the Arctic Council in 2019-2021 will provide an excellent opportunity to strengthen Iceland's international position in these areas and its more active participation in international cooperation on environmental protection, sustainability, and stability, thereby supporting Iceland's long-term interests.
The UN's Global Goals for Sustainable Development provide the guiding principles for development cooperation. The Foreign Minister emphasized two things; focus on areas were Icelandic expertise can be put to its best use in assisting and cooperating with developing countries, including fishing industry and geothermal energy. Also, to examine all possibilities to cooperate with the private sector on development projects where possible. “It is clear that public resources will not suffice to achieve the Global Development Goals; private funding is also necessary. When all is said and done, development cooperation is an investment in the future. Most leading donor countries and multinational institutions for development cooperation now operate with a clear focus on cooperation with the private sector.”