Business opportunities are ripe in India’s maritime, marine and energy sectors. Norway’s Consul General in Mumbai is ready to help.
She was Ambassador to India and Bhutan from 2007-2012. Now, she’s back after serving in Myanmar as Ambassador.
What is the importance of India for Norwegian companies and what has changed in the years she was abroad? Norway-Asia Business Review catches up with the Consul General to Mumbai, India, Ms Ann Ollestad.
“I think the next century would belong to Asia and India will play an even bigger role in geopolitics. India is one of the fastest growing large economies in the world and I see it as a place with plenty of opportunities, particularly for Norwegian businesses,” says Ms Ollestad. With that, the stage has been set for the importance of India for Norway and other countries for that matter.
Within India, the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa make up the jurisdiction of her consulate. Together these states also bring in 22% of India’s GDP with Maharashtra being the financial and business centre of the country. Over half of Norwegian companies in India are headquartered in the state.
According to Ms Ollestad, business opportunities are specifically ripe in the maritime, marine and energy sectors in both renewables and oil and gas. Most Norwegian companies in the jurisdiction are active in these areas, but new opportunities in other sectors also dawn.
“There is a revolution taking place in maritime infrastructure at the moment”, says Ms Ollestad. Ports and inland waterways are being built or about to be built very soon. “The Indian government is focussing more on India as a maritime nation. Prime Minister Modi met with the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Stockholm and suggested that we strengthen our cooperation and work together on ocean issues.”
And digitisation also creates new opportunities in maritime like in other sectors. One opportunity arising fast is green shipping.
On 6 December 2017, the Norwegian embassy organised a seminar addressing green transportation. The Norwegian Ambassador to India, Mr Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg recently stated on the embassy’s website that over one-third of all new cars sold in Norway are electric vehicles. Valuable lessons for India and Indian companies may be drawn from understanding customer behaviour in such a market. We also have state of the
art technology in green shipping with the world’s first battery-driven ferry in operation and the world’s largest fleet of LNG ships. What we don’t have, are the orders of magnitude. The numbers that may completely transform the market for green transport solutions, and usher in a new age of zero-emission transportation”.
Mr Kamsvåg also states that “the target of 100 percent [Electronic Vehicles] by 2030 set by the Indian government is both ambitious and inspiring. We believe India should set a similar target for their shipping fleet. The switch from fossil fuels to electric power will be beneficial for India’s energy security, Indian manufacturing, local air pollution and the reduction of greenhouse gases. Right now, India has the opportunity to leapfrog transport infrastructure based on fossil fuels and choose to develop green transport solutions.”
In the jurisdiction of Ms Ollestad there are also “opportunities in maritime defence, IT, higher education, solid waste management and wastewater treatment to name a few,” states Ms Ollestad.
Economically speaking India is becoming massively more important for the rest of the world. According to The World in 2050 by PWC, India is on track to become the second biggest economy on the planet after China.
The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects states that “After conceding its position as the fastest growing major economy to China for a year in 2017, India is likely to reclaim the position in 2018, with growth expected to accelerate to 7.3% in the year.”
For that to happen though, the World Bank states that reform and a more balanced growth across sectors are needed. So far, “India’s growth has been well diversified, but the pace of growth acceleration has differed across sectors. The acceleration of value added has been fastest in services, followed by industry, and there has been no evident pattern of acceleration in agriculture.”
Mr Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India, recently stated on World Bank’s website that “India’s long-term growth has become more steady, stable, diversified and resilient. In the long-run, for higher growth to be sustainable and inclusive, India needs to use land and water, which are increasingly becoming scarce resources, more productively, make growth more inclusive, and strengthen its public sector to meet the challenges of a fast growing, globalizing and increasingly middle-class economy.”
Ms Ollestad agrees with the World Bank’s assessment of inclusion as an important factor for long-term development. “In India, I have seen some of the most intelligent women with many of them in higher positions, both in the government and corporate. However, what is still surprising is that overall women’s participation in the workforce remains low. In fact, women’s participation in India’s workforce is lower than that of Pakistan and Bangladesh.”
One way to achieve gender participation and maintain growth numbers year after year is technology. According to PWC in the report Future of India - the Winning Leap, technology can be a major booster for development. It allows for leapfrogging earlier stages and jump right to the latest in technology.
“PWC’s analysis of key sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture, financial services, power, manufacturing, retail, urbanisation, digital and physical connectivity suggests that new solutions are necessary in each sector. These Winning Leap solutions will enable sectoral growth with a fraction of the resources to attain desired outcomes,” PWC finds.
If India is able to harness leapfrogging technologies, PWC says that, “a sixth of humanity, with the intellect, energy and creativity of a young nation is poised to grow rapidly”.
Ms Ollestad recently saw this first hand when visiting SEWA, the Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad. “SEWA is a well-known NGO, working for women’s welfare in the unorganised sectors. I was particularly impressed with the women associated with the NGO, embracing technology to manage their businesses.”
The challenge of a country like India, Ms Ollestad finds, is its complexity and sheer size. “India is a huge country and you need the right contacts, so it helps that I have been here before,” Ms Ollestad adds.
The Consulate General in Mumbai was established in 2015 to strengthen Indo-Norwegian cooperation. “Our primary goal is to support these interests, particularly within the seafood, maritime and oil & gas sectors,” says Ms Ollestad.
An example of such efforts is an upcoming meeting in Gujarat. “Gujarat is an important state for Norwegian businesses, especially in maritime and oil and gas sectors. The state’s new port policy along with Centre’s Sagarmala’s initiatives, Gujarat offers significant opportunities in shipbuilding, maritime skilling, naval defence and LNG infrastructure.”
“Working with state governments and other agencies within our jurisdiction has been positive,” says Ms Ollestad. “The focus of the Consulate General in Mumbai, which is India’s financial centre, is on business matters. Kolkata and Chennai have Honorary Consul Generals and they promote Norwegian interests in their patch. We assist the consulates on issues regarding seamen affairs. It is relevant to mention that Indians constitute the second largest group of seafarers on Norwegian ships.”
Basically, “we are here to open doors and use all traditional diplomatic tools to assist bigger and smaller companies,” says Ms Ollestad. Mumbai specifically is of interest for many Norwegian companies since many banks and private oil & gas companies are based there.
Ms Ollestad speaks highly of the city that houses so many Norwegian companies. “Mumbai is a vibrant, open and liberal city. It’s really a progressive hub. If anything has changed in the time I have been away is that there is now an even more assertive middle class. Recently, many people attended the clean-up of Versova beach in Mumbai. I see the growing middle class in India becoming more assertive. Issues around smart cities, environment protection, clean technologies and green initiatives are getting centre space in public discourse.”