AR­TI­CLES Am­bas­sador-Des­ig­nate Kjer­sti Rødsmoen and Min­is­ter Coun­sel­lor Tor Haug heads up the new team at Nor­way’s Em­bassy in Thai­land.

Nor­way’s Am­bas­sador-Des­ig­nate to Thai­land, Ms Kjer­sti Rødsmoen, and Min­is­ter Coun­sel­lor and Deputy Head of Mis­sion, Mr Tor Haug, ar­rived to the King­dom at an in­ter­est­ing time.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - CHEYENNE HOL­LIS

Free trade, the ASEAN pres­i­dency and a grow­ing em­bassy are just a few items on their agenda. Ms Kjer­sti Rødsmoen is cel­e­brat­ing 30 years in the for­eign ser­vice this au­tumn with a new role. She has taken over from Mr. Kjetil Paulsen as Nor­way’s Am­bas­sador to Thai­land and Cam­bo­dia. Mr Tor Haug, who was re­cently ap­pointed as Min­is­ter Coun­sel­lor, joins her and to­gether they will look at ways to fur­ther cul­ti­vate and ex­pand the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries.

Ms Rødsmoen has held many dif­fer­ent jobs through­out her ca­reer in­clud­ing work at both the mul­ti­lat­eral and bi­lat­eral lev­els. She re­cently headed the Latin Amer­ica sec­tion in the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs in Oslo, work­ing on bi­lat­eral and com­mer­cial re­la­tions in the re­gion.

“Bangkok was an in­trigu­ing op­tion and it has been a nice change. There are many Nor­we­gian busi­nesses present here, so work­ing on fur­ther com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ships is go­ing to be im­por­tant,” Ms Rødsmoen states. “Ad­di­tion­ally, so many Nor­we­gians from all dif­fer­ent back­grounds come to Thai­land each year. We have a huge visa and con­sular sec­tion. Mak­ing sure that these im­por­tant parts of the em­bassy func­tion well, is also a task I look for­wards to tak­ing on.”

With China and the US con­tin­u­ing to ex­change rounds of tar­iffs, global trade has come un­der fire. Ms Rødsmoen points out that Nor­way re­mains a strong sup­porter of free trade, the global trade sys­tem and the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion. In South­east Asia, the Euro­pean Free Trade As­so­ci­a­tion (EFTA), which con­sists of Nor­way, Switzer­land, Ice­land and Liecht­en­stein, al­ready has free trade agree­ments with Sin­ga­pore and the Philip­pines.

Mean­while, talks are on­go­ing with Malaysia, In­done­sia and Viet­nam. How­ever, dis­cus­sions on a pos­si­ble free trade agree­ment with Thai­land haven’t taken place in more than a decade.

“Our goal is to have a free trade agree­ment with Thai­land and we would like to get those dis­cus­sions back on track,” Ms Rødsmoen says. “I get the im­pres­sion that this is some­thing Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies, EFTA and Thai­land all be­lieve is im­por­tant. Hope­fully, we can get it done dur­ing our stay here. ”

Those ini­tial dis­cus­sions were placed on hold due in part to an un­sta­ble po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Thai­land at the time. When the elec­tions planned for 2019 take place, not only would there be a plat­form for fu­ture talks on a free trade agree­ment, but Thai-Nor­we­gian re­la­tions in gen­eral would ben­e­fit.

“The elec­tions would be a pos­i­tive boost to our re­la­tion­ship. I be­lieve it is im­por­tant for the peo­ple of Thai­land that there is an elec­tion plan in place and we are ex­pect­ing ev­ery­thing to be car­ried out in a fair, trans­par­ent and or­derly fash­ion,” Ms Rødsmoen notes. “This would con­firm the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment that is al­ready in mo­tion.”

And that is not the only sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment hap­pen­ing in 2019. Thai­land will act as the chair of ASEAN next year and Ms Rødsmoen be­lieves the pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries will carry over to this.

“We have co­op­er­ated with Thai­land very well over many years through mul­ti­lat­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions, i.e. on health is­sues and mine clear­ance,” Ms Rødsmoen ex­plains. An­other area on the top of Nor­way’s agenda is ocean af­fairs. Nor­way’s ocean area is seven times her land area and our blue econ­omy such as ship­ping, fish­eries and en­ergy re­sources from oil and gas con­sti­tute the ba­sis for our wealth. My im­pres­sion is that Nor­way and Thai­land can co­op­er­ate closer mul­ti­lat­er­ally on ocean re­lated mat­ters such as ma­rine lit­ter and fish­eries crime. We are very ea­ger to work with Thai­land but also the other ASEAN-coun­tries on these is­sues. This is some­thing we will pur­sue when Thai­land as­sumes the pres­i­dency of the ASEAN next year. We re­ally want to dis­cuss how we can make the most of this time.”

Im­ports & Ex­ports Nor­way im­ported USD 752 mil­lion worth of goods from Thai­land last year while ex­port­ing USD 333 mil­lion to the King­dom. Mr Tor Haug notes that while var­i­ous fac­tors make it dif­fi­cult to pre­dict these num­bers mov­ing for­ward, there is room for in­creases on both sides.

“There is al­ways room for growth when it comes to im­ports and ex­ports. Es­pe­cially seafood, which is im­por­tant in a culi­nary des­ti­na­tion such as Thai­land,” Mr Haug re­ports. “Salmon re­mains in de­mand, but cod and other seafood prod­ucts are also be­com­ing more pop­u­lar. Bangkok is a foodie city and this pairs well with Nor­we­gian seafood.”

On the flip side, Thai food is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity across Nor­way. This could lead to in­creas­ing amount of culi­nary favourites from Thai­land be­ing im­ported into Nor­way.

“You’re see­ing Thai restau­rants and food trucks pop-up ev­ery­where in Nor­way. We men­tioned that seafood ex­ports from Nor­way to Thai­land could grow. On the other hand, we could see growth in im­ports of Thai food prod­ucts to Nor­way as well,” Ms Rødsmoen says.

Re­new­able en­ergy is an­other sec­tor where Nor­way has the com­pe­ten­cies and tech­nolo­gies to con­trib­ute. Mr Haug adds that they are hav­ing on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions with the Thai gov­ern­ment re­gard­ing this and hope to con­tinue these dis­cus­sions mov­ing for­ward since Thai­land could ben­e­fit from util­is­ing clean en­ergy. In this re­gard, en­ergy co­op­er­a­tion within ASEAN is also an area that would be in­ter­est­ing to pur­sue.

“So­lar en­ergy is a tech­nol­ogy and com­mod­ity we ex­port to many coun­tries, but to less de­gree in South­east Asia. Nor­we­gian com­pa­nies have a strong com­pe­tency in this field and the price is now at a point where it can be a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion. We can pro­mote this in­stead of other sources of en­ergy such as coal or diesel,” Mr Haug de­tails. “There are also op­por­tu­ni­ties for cleaner en­ergy ex­ports such as LNG where Nor­way also has a lead­ing com­pe­tence.”

And it is not sim­ply goods and ser­vices that can be ex­changed be­tween Nor­way and Thai­land. Mr Haug re­ports there are many in­dus­tries and top­ics where Nor­way has knowl­edge to share. Both coun­tries have an in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ing this as­pect of the re­la­tion­ship fur­ther.

“There are still lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for Thai­land and Nor­way to ex­change knowl­edge. Not much ef­fort is re­quired to make in­roads,” Ms Rødsmoen notes. “We will look to iden­tify peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions in Nor­way that have knowl­edge of in­ter­est to Thai­land. We want to put peo­ple to­gether.”

The Am­bas­sador adds the gov­ern­ment has es­tab­lished a knowl­edge bank that is de­signed to fa­cil­i­tate this ex­change with­out cost­ing a lot of money or be­ing a huge project. It also al­lows the knowl­edge to flow both ways.

Peo­ple fo­cus Thai­land re­mains a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for Nor­we­gians. An es­ti­mated 130,000 to 140,000 vis­i­tors make the jour­ney ev­ery year. This to­tal im­pressed Ms Rødsmoen who be­lieves Thai­land is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion be­cause there is some­thing in the coun­try for ev­ery­one.

How­ever, tourism is no longer a one-way street. More Thai vis­i­tors are now mak­ing the jour­ney to Nor­way. The lure of the North­ern Lights, ex­pan­sive nat­u­ral beauty and the snow has proven to be a hit with Thai trav­ellers. This growth in tourism is some­thing the em­bassy hopes to con­trib­ute to.

“We’re look­ing to in­crease tourism to Nor­way and this is some­thing that has been grow­ing. Ar­rivals from Thai­land con­tinue to in­crease and we hope to build on this mo­men­tum,” Ms Rødsmoen says. “We ex­pect more flights be­tween Nor­way and Thai­land which will al­low for tourism to keep grow­ing in both di­rec­tions.”

There are no im­me­di­ate plans to change the visa process for Thai vis­i­tors trav­el­ling to Nor­way, but it is some­thing the Em­bassy will mon­i­tor mov­ing for­ward.

Our visa sec­tion at the em­bassy is con­tin­u­ously mak­ing strong ef­forts to stream­line the visa process and to en­sure a smooth and ef­fi­cient ex­pe­ri­ence for our visa ap­pli­cants. At present al­most all Thai ap­pli­cants go­ing to Nor­way for tourism, is granted a visa.

The baht is strong and we hope this will con­trib­ute to even more vis­i­tors from Thai­land to Nor­way “

With more Nor­we­gians head­ing to Thai­land and a grow­ing num­ber of Thais flock­ing to Nor­way, the Em­bassy has plans to in­crease its ca­pac­ity to sup­port the needs of both groups.

“We will be ex­pand­ing the Em­bassy next year. We are go­ing to take on some of the visa re­spon­si­bil­i­ties from other em­bassies around the re­gion. It means we will have an even stronger em­bassy with the abil­ity to serve more peo­ple,” Ms Rødsmoen re­ports. “We are look­ing at adding ten new peo­ple in to­tal with three of these com­ing from Nor­way and the oth­ers be­ing re­cruited from around the re­gion in­clud­ing Thai­land.”

And while the Em­bassy un­der­stands the im­por­tance of tourism and busi­ness, it hopes to pro­mote ed­u­ca­tion too. Mr Tor ex­plains there is strong co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the coun­tries in aca­demic fields that goes way back and there is hope this could be ex­panded.

“I look for­ward to re­in­forc­ing aca­demic ties and en­cour­ag­ing more stu­dents to study in Thai­land. This could be some­thing we push for mov­ing for­ward. I’ve read about stu­dents be­ing happy with the ex­pe­ri­ence here for many rea­sons,” Ms Rødsmoen says. “I have two chil­dren my­self, and I hope they may choose to spend some time study­ing here. I think it would be great for them.”

Trade, busi­ness and peo­ple will keep Ms Rødsmoen and Mr Tor busy in the com­ing years. Ul­ti­mately, their fo­cus re­mains on el­e­vat­ing the his­toric bond be­tween Nor­way and Thai­land that will im­prove all as­pects of the re­la­tion­ship.

“We want to strengthen the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Nor­way and Thai­land. This is a very in­ter­est­ing mo­ment for us. I have a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of Thai­land and I think our coun­tries are com­pat­i­ble in so many ar­eas. I’m very op­ti­mistic that re­la­tions will con­tinue to grow,” Ms Rødsmoen con­cludes.

PHOTO: TNCC/THOMAS ENGSTRÖM

PHOTO: TNCC/THOMAS ENGSTRÖM

Above left: Nor­way’s re­cently ap­pointed Am­bas­sador to Thai­land, Ms Kjer­sti Rødsmoen. Above: Min­is­ter Coun­sel­lor and Deputy Head of Mis­sion, Mr Tor Haug.

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