Buenos Aires Times

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Looming Norwegian state visit brings hope for stronger economic ties

For two countries with an almost non-existent shared history, the March 6-8 royal visit from the Scandinavian nation could be a launchpad.

Wednesday 28 February, 2018
Norway's Marit Bjoergen carries her country's flag after winning gold in the women's 30k cross-country skiing competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics
Norway's Marit Bjoergen carries her country's flag after winning gold in the women's 30k cross-country skiing competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics Foto:AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

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Norway and Argentina are almost definitely two nations the average person doesn't expect to hear uttered in the same sentence. The two have no shared history of wars, no colonies, no legacy of immigration, alliance or conflict. Google the two names together and the recent expansion of low-cost airline Norwegian in Argentina is pretty much all that comes up. In fact, the seventh search hit is for a website that measures the distance between countries. (The two are almost 8,000 miles apart, which just about says it all.) Perhaps most damning is an official Norwegian Embassy brief which describes the Argentine-Norwegian relationship as “positive and with a lot of potential.” They work with what they have.

But the leaders of Argentina and Norway are eager to change that. In early March, King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway, accompanied by a retinue of prominent Norwegian business and government leaders, will spend three days on an official visit to Argentina. The royal couple will meet with President Mauricio Macri, Congressional leadership and members of the Supreme Court, as well as visit an estancia and the Parque de la Memoria, among other activities. Alongside these traditional state visit activities is a program of economic engagement centred around a March 7 business seminar titled: “A new alliance for value creation.”

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Norway's Ambassador in Argentina Jostein Leiro said the objective of the visit was to “reinforce bilateral relations,” and it will “offer an opportunity to exchange ideas and hopes for further cooperation.”

Why now? Economic ties between the two countries have been growing in recent years, and the Macri administration’s emphasis on foreign investment as a method to jump-start economic growth has provided a uniquely rosy picture. Though numbers have been down the past two years, 2015 saw almost €1 billion in exports from European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states — Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — to Argentina. Norway accounted for 20 percent of that. In return, Argentina sends around €100 million worth of goods to EFTA members each year, with a peak of €151 million in 2012 (€44 million to Norway).

As always with Argentina these days, Leiro said Norwegian companies are primarily interested in the energy sector—oil and natural gas, but also renew-ables such as wind and solar. Likely music to Macri’s ears, Norway sees lots of opportunity there. But that’s not all: Tourism and technological innovation are also areas where Norwegians see openings, Leiro said. Beyond Norwegian Air’s new, more prominent place in the South American airline industry, the cruise line industry values Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego Province for its role in Antarctic voyages. Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten and marine electronics manufacturer Kongsberg Simrad already have presences in Argentina.

This growth in bilateral interest is part of Norway’s increased participation across Latin America: Norwegian companies have been Brazil’s eighth-largest foreign investor in recent years, and also have investments in México and Chile, according to Leiro. Plus, EFTA and MERCOSUR recently began negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two blocs. 

No doubt both sides hope the royal visit will help speed things along.

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