Katja Nordgaard of Norway’s MFA gives us insight into how the ministry lends a helping hand to Norwegian businesses abroad
On 10 October this year, Singapore’s President Dr. Tony Tan Keng and his wife stepped off a plane in Oslo in what was Singapore’s first official state visit to Norway. The visit – an invitation from His Majesty King Harald V – was aimed at strengthening cooperation between the two countries in general and more particularly in industries such as maritime, offshore, education and research. It is also the latest example of Norway’s increased focus on developing and supporting businesses at home and abroad.
“For Norway as for many other countries, being part of the global economy is extremely important and key to the development of our economy,” explains Ms Katja Nordgaard, Director of the Section for Economic and Commercial Affairs. “In an interconnected world, economies, big and small, rely on trade and interaction with the outside world. The Norwegian economy has always been open and relying on trade with other countries but we have become increasingly aware of the need for transforming our economy from relying very heavily on our oil and gas industry to shifting the focus to new sectors. We also need to attract foreign investors and competence to Norway in order to further develop our industries and research environments. Promoting Norway as a tourist destination is of course part of this.”
Tight cooperation To help businesses tap into global potential, the embassies play a key role. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs works closely with various industry-related organisations to better support businesses abroad in a network referred to as Team Norway. Innovation Norway (IN) is an important instrument for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry with offices all over Norway and in more than 30 countries. The Norwegian Seafood Council helps develop new markets for Norway’s extensive seafood industry. Likewise, Intsok – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, a network of over 220 businesses and organisations in the oil and gas industry, provides support in more than 15 key markets through advice, meetings, workshops and seminars. And the list goes on.
“It is the role of the Section for Economic and Commercial Affairs to help create the best possible assistance for Norwegian businesses abroad by making sure that our embassies have the right tools and knowledge,” says Ms Nordgaard. “Our focus on economic diplomacy and the importance of assisting Norwegian companies on the international scene has increased in importance. It is crucial that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other partners of Team Norway do what it takes to assist companies in their internationalisation process. The embassies and IN offices are also key actors in discovering new opportunities in their countries both when it comes to investment possibilities, as well as talent pools and interesting research environments that can complement what is going on in Norway. This, of course, requires that we have a good understanding of Norwegian business sectors and their needs and potential.
According to Ms Nordgaard, the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs abroad vary depending on the country in question – in some countries entering the local market is more straight forward and businesses in a wide range of industries do well on their own. However, in some markets there may be various barriers such as differences in business culture and structure, language issues or differences in political systems. Presence through embassies provides the necessary
insight for Norwegian businesses and they can play a major supporting role for companies trying to enter the market.
“Offering support is best done in a joint effort from the Ministry, our embassies and general consulates and other agencies within Team Norway,” explains Ms Nordgaard. “Our aim is to create long term value for Norwegian companies and society, but also for the countries in which they operate. In practical terms that could mean giving advise on local conditions and frameworks, how to go about finding local partners, making sure businesses have trustworthy relationships with local actors and facilitating access to environments where new businesses normally don’t have access. It can be very difficult and expensive for a small company in Norway to access relevant information and networks on their own.”
A holistic approach However, help on the ground is not the only way in which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can help business abroad. According to Ms Nordgaard, the Ministry takes an increasingly holistic approach, looking at a wide range of initiatives, including official visits, business delegations, industry-specific research trips, seminars and familiarisation trips, amongst others. The Ministry also arranges media trips to Norway in order to create greater awareness abroad of the country.
“The work of the Section for Economic and Commercial Affairs is not just about supporting businesses abroad but also about how our embassies can be even more visible and supportive in attracting investment and competence back to Norway,” explains Ms Nordgaard. “Recently, we have seen an increased interest in cooperation with the MFA from some of the 40 Norwegian industry clusters– like for example the Norwegian Medtech and Edtech clusters. It all breaks down to taking care of national interests and value creation through international cooperation.” The need for change As the Norwegian economy changes, so does the demands on how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates. The Norwegian economy has seen a downturn as a consequence of the falling price of oil and there is a growing acknowledgement in both the private and public sectors of the need to diversify interests through innovation and alternative ways of investment and value creation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not oblivious to this.
“The world is heading in a direction of more carbon free industries and we see that the Norwegian economy and business sectors need to reorient themselves and expand into new sectors, such as renewable energy, bio and new IT technologies for example,” says Ms Nordgaard. “We have a lot of competence in Norway, which has developed around our oil and gas industry and we are confident this can be redirected towards other sectors. We also have know-how in maritime industries, fisheries and aquaculture and the conservation of the sea, sectors that are high on the global agenda. It is essential that we continue to lead in these areas in order to continue to develop the economy and attract investors to Norway.”
The Norwegian way The issue of sustainable business practices is always part and parcel of every effort and initiatives such as business delegations and seminars where the Ministry and the Section for Economic and Commercial Affairs are engaged in. There is a clear expectation from the government that Norwegian companies and organisations abroad exercise best practices and have a clear understanding of corporate social responsibility with respect to the environment, employees and the local community.
So to what extend is the work of the Section for Economic and Commercial Affairs political?
“I wouldn’t say our work is political as such,” says Ms Nordgaard, “but there is a clear understanding that in order to reach the new Sustainable Development Goals or to fulfil the Paris agreement on climate change, the private sector needs to play a vital role. There is also a strong message and an expectation form society and from the government that businesses are operating in a manner that is consistent with agreed international standards. It can be tough competition if others are not playing by the rules, but I am convinced that responsibility and good values throughout the business chains is a long-term gain and a competitive advantage in the end. Young, resourceful people want to work for companies that are responsible and sustainable so it is also a matter of attracting the best talent. In addition, very often Norwegian companies have a flat organisational structure, which can be very motivating; people feel they are seen and are given opportunities and can take part in the decision making. I believe these aspects act as competitive advantages for Norwegian companies and that this model will help us attract international talent and being successful on the international market in the future.”