Katja Nordgaard of Nor­way’s MFA gives us insight into how the min­istry lends a help­ing hand to Nor­we­gian busi­nesses abroad

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents -

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.”

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