Norwegian PM hopes to boost links in new areas

Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Norway sits on the Arctic line and Singapore is half the world away.

Yet when Singapore made a bid to join the Arctic Council in 2011, Norway strongly argued Singapore's case. Likewise, Singapore strongly supported Norway's bid to boost ties with Asean.

Yesterday, visiting Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she hopes such cooperation will get even stronger when President Tony Tan visits Norway in October.

Both countries have much in common - they each have just over five million residents and a strong maritime tradition - and have come a long way since the first Norwegian consulate was set up here in 1906.

Ms Solberg told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday that she looks forward to further collaboration with Singapore in new areas like research and development, digitalisation and education.

"Besides what we already do on business, I still think education, research and development are areas of interest," she said.

"We have quite a lot of young people who come here to attend different programmes, to learn about Asia and the way of doing business here."

Singapore students in maritime studies have also gone on exchange programmes to Norway every year.

Ms Solberg believes countries like Norway and Singapore which are highly developed can be much more "innovative and productive" and use knowledge in R&D to spur this. For the first time, Norway's publicly-sponsored R&D funds reached one per cent of its Gross National Product, she added.

She also sees a future for tie-ups in areas like digitalisation.

"The Telenor chief just told us that they are moving their global digitalisation centre to Singapore," she said. Telenor Group, based in Norway's capital Oslo, is one of the world's major mobile operators with 203 million subscribers.

Ms Solberg believes more digital firms will move to Singapore, which is attractive to foreign firms with its "predictable government policies".

She noted that a number of Norwegian maritime firms have also moved their headquarters from Hong Kong to Singapore. Foreign direct investments from Norway to Singapore total some $23 billion.

Ms Solberg also delivered the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture, where she said Singapore's consistent investment in education, healthcare and its people is key to sustainable development in a city.

Norway-Singapore ties are not all about shipping or technology. Last year, Singapore imported some 6,500 tonnes of salmon from Norway, and Ms Solberg said she managed to sample Singapore's chilli crab while on her short visit here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Norwegian PM hopes to boost links in new areas'. Subscribe