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