Prime Minister Erna Solberg was wrapping up official visits to Singapore and South Korea this weekend, ending her Asian tour by calling for even tighter business cooperation with the latter. Solberg noted that South Korea is Norway’s fourth-largest trading partner, after only the EU, the US and China.
“The economic relationship has grown immensely the last 10 years, and we hope it will continue to grow,” Solberg said in opening remarks before participating in the Busan Roundtable Discussion on Saturday. The value of bilateral trade amounted to nearly NOK 50 billion last year.
Norwegian shipowners and offshore companies have built vessels and rigs in South Korea for years, while those yards provide important markets for Norwegian equipment suppliers. Orders from South Korean yards are especially important now, Solberg noted, given the difficult market situation in the offshore industry. Low oil prices have sent Norwegian oil, oil service and offshore companies into much tougher times the past year, while shipowners are hurting as well.
Solberg noted that it will be important for Norwegian maritime companies to maintain a strong presence in South Korea, and she was keen to hear how South Korean companies were coping with the downturn. She said her government was currently working on a new assessment of industry in Norway that will focus on major trends and developments affecting manufacturing. “Most of these developments and trends influence industry in both our countries,” she said, stressing that goals for cutting emissions will be an important part of the so-called “White Paper.”
“Declining demand from the oil industry will provide a test for our country, with its large oil industry, of the ability to readjust the economy,” Solberg said, claiming the Norwegian economy is at a turning point. “The government’s goal is to stimulate the readjustment process and promote competitiveness.”
She noted that Norway’s trade with South Korea included growing seafood exports from Norway and potential for more trade within design. While oil, offshore and shipping struggle in Norway, its seafood industry is booming and Norwegian design is expanding worldwide. Solberg said she was happy to see representatives from both sectors at Saturday’s meeting.
Solberg’s visit to South Korea began with greetings not only from top Korean officials but also a robot that was on hand to present flowers. Political conversations with South Korean President Park Geun-hye took place on Friday, with a trip to the demilitarized zone at the border to North Korea also on the agenda. Solberg admitted to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it felt “strange” to have North Korean border guards peering into the windows of the building used for such official visits, and taking photos.
Solberg said her political talks both in Singapore and South Korea also concentrated on research and business development. Norway has a large business presence in both Singapore and South Korea, and the Norwegian prime minister also visited the huge Hyundai shipyard in Ulsan.