May 17 was Constitution Day for Norway, the country’s national holiday. In commemoration of this yearly event, BusinessKorea sat down with His Excellency Torbjørn Holthe, Norwegian Ambassador to South Korea, to speak about opening new trade routes between the two countries, and continued cooperation in a variety of fields. What follows are excerpts from the interview.
First of all, please explain the brief history of diplomatic and economic relations between Norway and Korea.
Norway and South Korea first worked together during the Korean War when Norway sent over medical personnel to establish the Norwegian Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (NORMASH). Diplomatic relations were established in 1959. Since then, our bilateral relationship has only improved, and South Korea has become an important partner for bilateral cooperation, business and cultural exchange.
Economically, South Korea is Norway’s second-largest trading partner in Asia, and trade is increasing. Norway and South Korea have complimentary economies, especially in the maritime industry, making trade mutually beneficial. South Korean shipyards produce state-of-the-art ships and oil rigs for Norwegian companies. Norway is a leading actor in ship classifications, and exports high-tech solutions in the maritime industry. Cooperation in the marine industry, and Norwegian export of marine products to South Korea has sharply increased in recent years.
Please let us know the significance of your Constitution Day on May 17 for our readers.
The Norwegian Constitution Day is a very special day in Norway. It marks our constitution from 1814, which laid the foundation for Norway to become an independent nation, and also for the democratization process, which has made our country a free and democratic country.
The day is celebrated with colorful processions of children with banners, flags, and music. In Norway, the streets will be filled with people, many in their various national costumes of bunad, to enjoy the processions and other festivities. As this year marks the 200 year anniversary of our constitution, the day is extra special to Norwegians.
Also, among the Norwegian population of about 1,100 people living in the southeast of Korea, mainly Busan, Ulsan, and Geoje, constitution day has been widely celebrated with processions, flags, and music along Haeundae beach in Busan. This year will, however, be different. After the tragedy of the Sewol ferry, our King Harald sent his condolences to President Park. And in respect for the victims and their families, there will be no processions in Busan this year, and the constitution day will be marked in a quiet manner.
As you are well aware, Korean former President Lee Myung-bak visited Norway in September 2102, and had summit talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg about fostering a future-oriented bilateral relationship between the two countries. Please introduce major issues discussed and agreed to during the summit, and let us know any substantial progress made to date.
During former president of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Norway, the major topics discussed included cooperation in the Arctic areas, renewable energy, research, technology, and international collaboration. Two Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were signed after the meeting. The first MoU dealt with shipbuilding and development of climate-friendly initiatives in the field; the second with shipping in the High North and further bilateral cooperation in the area.
Since the visit, and with strong support from Norway, South Korea has received the status of a permanent observer in the Arctic Council. The collaboration between educational institutions in our countries has been strengthened with a number of bilateral agreements. Cooperation in the shipbuilding industry has also flourished with major contracts between Norwegian ship owners, suppliers, petroleum companies, and South Korean shipbuilders. Both Norway and South Korea have also hosted joint seminars on shipping and shipbuilding. A contract between DSME and the Norwegian Armed Forces for the construction of a logistics vessel, and an agreement between the Korea Polar Research Institute and the Norwegian Polar Institute for a Joint Polar Research Centre, are among the most recent cooperation agreements.
Would you please tell us, from your point of view, how to further develop the bilateral trade and investment opportunities between the two countries?
MOUs and bilateral agreements like the free trade agreement between South Korea and the EFTA countries ease the barriers for trade and investments between our countries. Joint seminars also provide a good arena for companies to share their opportunities and ideas, and give the participants the chance to meet and network. The Norwegian government aims to make Norway a tempting place for South Korean investments through an emphasis on a thriving business environment.
The increasing cooperation between Norway and South Korea in the Arctic and the possibilities for transportation along the Northern Sea Route bring major bilateral trade and investment opportunities between the two countries. Promoting economic activity and providing jobs in the north are important objectives of Norway’s High North policy, also in collaboration with other countries such as South Korea.
Please introduce some successful Norwegian companies in Korea by industrial sector, and vice versa, in order to give conviction and insights to potential investors of both countries in the years to come.
The number of Norwegian companies coming to South Korea is increasing along with the strengthening of our bilateral cooperation and trade volumes. Kongsberg Maritime and The Jotun Group are examples of companies who have, with great success, invested heavily in the country and established factories. Kongsberg Maritime is a Norwegian company in the maritime industry. And the Norwegian Jotun Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of paints, coatings, and powder coatings.
Ship and offshore classification society DNV GL, petroleum company Statoil, oil service company Aker Solutions, and shipping company EUKOR are among other successful Norwegian companies in South Korea.
Please introduce tourists’ attractions in Norway for Korean tourists abroad.
Norway is the perfect destination for nature lovers. There are mountains plunging into the sea from hundreds of metres, fjords, and tall mountain peaks that provide excellent places for mountain hiking.
In northern Norway, tourists can ride a dog sledge to Kirkenes Snow Hotel, a hotel built again and again every winter, only with snow. The hotel provides a “northern light wakeup call,” so guests may get a glimpse of the famous Aurora, which can be seen in large parts of northern Norway during winter.
Actually, the majestic scenery from the popular movie “Frozen” was based on Norwegian nature and villages with traditional wooden architecture. With regards to architecture, Norway is maybe most famous for The Opera house in Oslo. Our capital city also has famous museums such as the Viking ship museum and the Munch museum, which is showcasing the artwork of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, perhaps most famous for his painting “The Scream”. This summer, a large Munch exhibition will also be shown in South Korea at the Seoul Arts Center.
Traveling from South Korea to Norway has become even more convenient for Koreans since last year, when Hanjin launched 5 charter flights going directly from Incheon to Oslo. Due to the high demand for these tickets, direct flights will continue this year as well.