Oslo Calling: Why Norway matters to India

norway-indiaAs India celebrated its independence from colonial rule in August 1947, among the first countries to recognise the free nation was Norway, a picturesque energy-rich Scandinavian nation famed for the legendary Vikings. Then foreign minister of the Nordic nation, Halvard Lange, sent a telegraphic message to India’s special envoy, V.K. Krishna Menon conveying his government’s decision to establish bilateral relations with India.

In the decades since, India and Norway have forged multifarious ties marked by regular high-level visits. Yet, its’ taken as many years for a visit that will see the first Indian head of state set foot on the Norwegian soil.

The three-day state visit by President Pranab Mukherjee to Norway beginning October 12 is indicative of the growing importance New Delhi is now attaching to its ties with Oslo, described by a senior Indian diplomat as “problem-free” in all these many years.

There are several reasons why India is seeking to push for even closer ties across a range of areas with Norway, not the least of which would be greater co-operation in the energy sector.

norway-oilNorway is not only the third largest producer of gas globally but also the seventh largest exporter of oil. Significantly, among the numerous Joint Working Groups that India and Norway have between them is one focusing on hydrocarbons, with the latter keen on doing business on areas such as offshore oil and gas exploration and production.

India, in turn, is interested in the drilling and exploration technologies that Norwegian companies have to offer.  Indian companies like ONGC and Reliance Industries already have tie-ups with Norwegian companies in the energy sector.

India is also keen to explore further the untapped potential of bilateral trade, which currently stands at $ 1 billion. It’s with this in mind that President Pranab Mukherjee is being accompanied by leading Indian industrialists and businessmen with whom he has already had a brain-storming session in the run-up to the visit.

India is exploring ways to step up its exports to the Nordic nation and, in turn, attract greater investments from Norwegian companies that doubled to $8 billion in 2013 from $4 billion the previous year. Among the items that India currently exports to Norway includes cotton yarn and fabric, metals, paper products, tea, coffee and spices.

Norway is equally keen to forge closer business ties with India, and is enthusiastic about hosting the `Norway-Asia Business Summit’ in New Delhi in April 2015.  India is also eyeing a larger slice of the pie from the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, which is the largest sovereign wealth fund in Europe with $ 850 billion in its kitty. Keen to give the infrastructure and other sectors the necessary boost, India wants a substantial increase in the current investment that stands at a piffling $4 billion at present.

With Norway’s robust maritime industry, India is eager to take forward bilateral cooperation in this sector too. In ship-building, there are already 30 vessels being built in Indian shipyards for Norwegian owners. India is also particularly interested in the deep-sea high-value fishing technology the Nordic nation is famed for.

Inorway-himadrindia, which become a permanent observer of the Arctic Council in 2013 with Norwegian backing its candidature, also hopes to deepen its collaboration in the fields of science and technology, earth sciences and polar research.

The burgeoning education and scientific collaboration will be telescoped in the president’s visit to Fram Museum, where he will speak via a  video link to Indian scientists on the Arctic Station, Himadri, which was set up in 2008. President Mukherjee would also be speaking to some Ph.D. Students who are working at the University of Svalbard. The two sides are expected to sign a clutch of agreements between various educational institutions for R&D and for cooperation and exchange, says Navtej Sarna, secretary (west) in India’s external affairs ministry.

In the international arena, the partnership is proving to be a win-win, with Oslo backing New Delhi’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and the expansion of both its permanent and non-permanent members.

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