New Opportunities in Portland, ME

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Trade Commissioner Consul Hlynur Gudjonsson and Icelandic Ambassador to the United States Gudmundur Stefansson visited Portland, Maine on Friday December 6th to meet with officials from Governor’s LePage administration including DECD Commissioner George Gervais, Department of Transportation Commissioner Dave Bernhardt and Maine Port Authority Director John Henshaw.  Also attending the meeting were Janine Cary, president of Maine International Trade Center and Gylfi Sigfusson, CEO, Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company that in 2013 moved its North American headquarters from Norfolk, Va., to Portland.

Stefansson and Gudjonsson presented as well at an Icelandic Business Roundtable at the Maine International Trade Center office in Portland for close to 30 companies and institutions.  At the roundtable Janine Cary, president of Maine International Trade Center, announced the founding of the Maine North Atlantic Development Office, which will work to increase trade between Maine and nations served by Eimskip and coordinate potential trade missions to Iceland and Northern Europe in 2014. 

On Friday evening, Eimskip celebrated the new partnership between Iceland and Maine at its first annual Christmas Charity Event at Ocean Gateway Terminal.

Gudjonsson’s Icelandic Business Roundtable presentation:

The meetings in Maine focused on trade, investments and the Arctic.  Gudjonsson gave an Iceland overview at the Icelandic Business Roundtable and discussed the Arctic and Iceland’s Arctic policies:

 “Principles of sustainability and environment is key when looking at the future development and increased activity in the Arctic and the government of Iceland understands that when it comes to economic development in the Arctic the challenging policy question is to seek balance between conservation, utilization and societies.

And Iceland went to work.  An Arctic Policy was adopted by Althing, the Icelandic parliament, in 2011 and included:

Twelve priority areas and five broad themes, the broad themes are: 

The Arctic Council is the premier form for circumpolar cooperation.

Working towards cementing Iceland’s place as an Arctic Coastal State.

Building local knowledge an capacity at universities and increase science cooperation.

Sustainability and protection is at the forefront when Arctic issues and projects are discussed.

Ensuring Iceland’s security interests in the Arctic.

In the two years since the resolution passed some changes have taken place domestically:

Increased activity in development in infrastructure and services with future growth in the Arctic in mind.

Licensing rounds in Icelandic waters for oil and gas exploration.

Opening of the Consulate General of Iceland in Greenland.

Increased cooperation with various partners such as Alaska and Maine.

Increased dialogue in Iceland about the Arctic in regards to investments, infrastructure, policy and science.

Few slides back I showed you one that showed our economic drivers:  Energy, Marine Products and Tourism and these pillars and the service industries they have created will lead our interest in the Arctic.

The private sector and markets will largely drive the pace of developments in shipping, mining and oil and gas exploration as well as fishing.  The Icelandic government sees the establishment of the Circumpolar Business Council as an essential step towards building the necessary framework for further business development in the region and the Council will bridge the communication gap between the private sector and policy makers.

The epicenter of the investments are likely to be in the Barent Sea area, north of Norway and Russia and North Alaska but with major local and international consequences elsewhere in the Arctic and there is Iceland.

The Arctic is typically a long term investment: lead times from discovery to production remain long. 

Iceland is dedicated to promote improved and heightened cooperation between business sectors in Iceland, the other Arctic nations, globally and with potential partners, such as the State of Maine.  One the government’s initiative was the Icelandic Arctic Business Council formed in 2012 and includes already 90 firms in Iceland with a keen interest in investments and developments in the Arctic. 

The ocean is our life and without responsible fisheries management Iceland as a society would not have survived.  We fought the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal etc. to protect our waters and of the Arctic nations Iceland was the first to confirm the Law of the Sea framework in 1985.

At the Arctic Summit in Alaska in 2011, David Rubenstein, Managing Director of the Carlyle Group spoke on investment opportunities in the Arctic and one thing he said stuck with me.  At the end of his presentation he talked about the need for investors to understand the regulatory framework, the need to understand what rules he is playing by and while the U.S. had not affirmed the Law of the Sea that would not be the case.  Iceland hopes that the U.S. will see the light and join the group.

Oil and gas exploration, mining and shipping will be the biggest drivers but we should not forget fisheries, key industry in Iceland, and tourism.

Iceland understands the significant level of uncertainty about the Arctic’s future both environmentally and economically and understands that though the prospects are significant, the trajectory and speed of the Arctic economic development are uncertain and a strong regulatory framework and corporate environmental stewardship need to be hand in hand.”

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