Translated from Norwegian
A time of crisis is often a time for putting your house in order, making cuts and tightening the purse strings. But it is also a time for investment. And this is just what Norway is doing in Texas, the US equivalent of Western Norway, one of Norway’s regions of growth.
In 1977, Texas-born Paul “Red” Adair became well-known in Norway for his part in dealing with the Ekofisk Bravo blowout in the North Sea. Norway, then a young oil nation, was forced to turn to Texas to obtain help from the world’s leading expert in extinguishing oil well fires and capping blowouts. Today many experts are travelling in the opposite direction, from Norway to Texas. In 2010, some 30 Norwegian companies, among them Aker Solutions and DNV, were involved in the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
When you read this, I will be on my way to Houston, Texas, the oil capital of the US and its fourth largest city. There is also a slice of Norway to be found here. Some 7 000 Norwegians live and work in and around Houston, more than anywhere else in the world outside Scandinavia. Most of them are involved in the energy and shipping sectors. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also has an active and hard-working Consulate General in Houston. Around 140 companies that are either Norwegian-owned or have strong ties to Norway are based here. Statoil is one of them. DNB is another. Houston has also become increasingly important for Norway as a financial centre.
Times are changing. Houston, which is twinned with Stavanger, has become a gateway for the Norwegian business sector in the US, as Brooklyn was for emigrants from Norway in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are many differences between Texas and Norway, but also some striking similarities. Both are experiencing economic growth at a time when our neighbours are suffering setbacks. We are seeing considerable value creation in the oil, gas and shipping sectors. We are seeing that technological advances driven by the energy sector are having positive spin-off effects. Norwegian companies are also making their presence felt in Texas in the field of environmental technology and the pharmaceutical industry.
My programme in Houston on Thursday and Friday includes events in support of energy companies, presenting Norway as an energy nation with an emphasis on challenges and opportunities in the High North, meetings with experts about global health programmes aimed at combating poverty and a round-table conference on foreign and security policy. The visit is important for raising Norway’s profile in a corner of the US that is characterised by strong growth. It provides an opportunity to present an up-to-date picture of modern Norway, where the development of our own coast and continental shelf, as well as an advanced supply industry, has led to the creation of leading research communities in Western Norway and along the coast. Just as in Houston.
At the same time the visit illustrates the increasing importance of promoting and supporting Norwegian companies abroad. This also applies to the support provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in close cooperation with the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Innovation Norway. At this time of crisis at home, involving cuts, falling demand and growing unemployment, many countries are focusing more attention on supporting their companies abroad. Norway is weathering the crisis relatively well. Even so, we are taking steps to improve the long-term follow-up and support we give to Norwegian companies abroad.
We are investing more strategically in established markets such as the US, and Texas. We are redefining our priorities and focusing more on establishing a presence in the new major economic powers in East Asia. We are opening embassies in new oil nations, such as Angola and Kazakhstan. We are conducting energy dialogues with nearby countries such as France and Germany, but also with countries experiencing growth, such as Brazil. And not least we are following up new opportunities for value creation in the High North, where Norway is seeking to be at the forefront internationally in terms of knowledge, activity and presence.
This will become a more important component of modern foreign policy. We are seeing signs of change in the countries of Europe. As more and more aspects of foreign policy are being coordinated in Brussels, the foreign services of the EU countries are being given more scope to promote their business sectors. We have different framework conditions, which also offer opportunities, for example for following up those parts of the business sector that are operating abroad.
We must target our support more strategically and in response to specific needs. The overall aim is to ensure access to the markets. This involves countering short-term protectionism during times of crisis. It is therefore crucial to support the work and authority of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Europe is the most important market for Norwegian companies; close to 80% of Norwegian exports go to the EU market. Europe is now undergoing a period of crisis. Our companies will also feel the effects of this, even if the Norwegian economy as a whole continues to perform well.
It is important for the Norwegian Government to protect the rights of our companies in Europe and the fundamental principle of equal treatment set out in the EEA Agreement. The EEA Agreement has been in force since 1995. In my view it has never been more important for Norway. It is in times of crisis that a small country like ours needs to be able to rely on the international legal order and the principle of equal treatment. In a few days’ time, a comprehensive review of the consequences of the EEA Agreement will be presented. This will provide a good basis for debate both about Norway and about Norway’s relations with the EU. And it will provide a reminder of how crucial international markets are for Norwegian value creation – and therefore also for welfare and employment in Norway.