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India, Norway and the Blue Economy

The visit to Delhi this week by Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, was unusual: she kept to her official programme of discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but her principal focus was on deepening economic and technological cooperation in the Blue Economy.

A nation of 5.3 million people with per capita income of $83,000, Norway is a leader not only in enlightened governance at home, but also in shaping global thinking and policy formulation on ocean management. It has harnessed the benefits of the Blue Economy through judicious use of 21st-century technologies. Oceans produce goods and services worth $2.5 trillion each year, which is expected to double by 2030. Norwegian experts have been saying that the Blue Economy has huge potential for meeting the world’s need for resources, creating jobs and accelerating socio-economic development, but this goal is achievable only through sustainable growth in ocean industries and vastly enhanced international cooperation.

Last September, Prime Minister Solberg created an international panel of 12 heads of government and the UN secretary general’s special envoy for the Oceans, which has been tasked with devising:

“We are dependent on a clean and healthy ocean, and all use of marine resources must be sustainable,” the Norwegian prime minister said.[1]

India is not a member of this high-level panel on oceans, but the PM’s visit witnessed close interaction between officials, experts and business leaders and joint projects may result in mutually beneficial knowledge-based ocean management models.

Indian business is likely to monitor the new India-Norway dialogue for its focus on innovations, governance and incentives for robust economic development, while simultaneously improving and safeguarding the health of the oceans. Indian companies should consider participating in a special programme to combat marine litter that has the support of a Norwegian grant of NOK 150 million ($17.6 million). This has recently been increased to $200 million for the next four-year period.[2] They will also be keen to collaborate with Norwegian expertise in managing industries such as oil, gas, shipping and offshore as also fisheries and aquaculture in a ‘green’ way. For example, Norwegian technology for on-board processing and packaging of fish and its instant transportation could be valuable for India.

In the backdrop of a steady increase in trade, investments and transfer of technology, promising possibilities exist for future growth not only in the Blue Economy sectors, but also in hydropower, IT services, mobile connectivity, light consumer goods and investment in Indian start-ups. Nearly 100 Norwegian companies[3] are active in India. More corporate players are showing interest, as was evident from the well-attended dialogue at the India-Norway Business Summit 2019, held in Delhi on January 7 to coincide with the Norwegian’s PM’s visit. B-to-B level discussions revealed ample complementarities in green shipping (battery-operated or LNG-run vessels), sustainable seafood production and wind energy, besides cooperation in the defence and space sectors.

This was followed the next day (January 8) by three important developments:

Bilateral trade hovers around $1.2 billion (which is the actual figure for 2017-2018), showing a significant increase over $974 million in 2013-2014. The Norwegian pension fund- the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), the second largest in the world, has invested $12 billion in India, and can invest more.

Norway was one of the five countries[6] that participated in the India-Nordic Summit, held last April in Stockholm. This first-ever dialogue demonstrated the convergence among participants on the “key issues related to global security, economic growth, innovation and climate change”.[7]

Prime Minister Solberg’s visit to India was thus a significant step in the right direction. Many more may be needed to consolidate its initial gains.

Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House and a former Indian ambassador with extensive diplomatic experience in the Indian Ocean region. He chairs FICCI’s Task Force on the Blue Economy.

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[1] High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, Press Release: Heads of Government Unite for the Ocean and People Who Depend on it, 24 September 2018, <https://www.wri.org/news/2018/09/release-heads-government-unite-ocean-and-people-who-depend-it>

[2] Royal Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta, Kingdom of Norway, Norway increasing funding for global efforts to combat marine litter, 10 November 2018, <https://norway.no/en/indonesia/norway-indonesia/news-events/news2/norway-increasing-funding-for-global-efforts-to-combat-marine-litter/>

[3] Telenor, SN Power, funded by Statkraft and Norfund, and DNBNor are some of the leading players. Those showing interest in entering the Indian market or expanding their operations are: Equinor, Gexcon, Glocal View AS and Kongsberg Maritime. Some of the leading Indian companies active in Norway are: Siva Ventures, Tata Motors, Tech Mahindra and Cognizant.

[4] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Joint Statement during the State Visit of Prime Minister of Norway to India (January 08, 2019), 8 January 2019, <https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/30894/Joint_Statement_during_the_State_Visit_of_Prime_Minister_of_Norway_to_India_January_08_2019>

[5] Government of the Kingdom of Norway, Opening speech, the Raisina dialogue, 8 January 2019, <https://www.regjeringen.no/en/aktuelt/racina-dialogue/id2624310/>

[6] The others were: Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, besides India.

[7] Government of Sweden, Joint Press Statement from the Summit between India and the Nordic countries, 17 April 2018, <https://www.government.se/statements/2018/04/joint-press-statement-from-the-summit-between-india-and-the-nordic-countries/>