NORWEGIAN AMBASSADOR KNUT SOLEM

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Bridging the Cultural Divide

Ambassador Knut Solem of the Royal Norwegian Embassy

Despite the stark distinction between Philippine and Norwegian cultures, Solem explained that this should not hamper growth and development. Solem said that to thrive in the sea of personal and cultural differences in a global organization, leaders must build cross cultural synergy through cultural knowledge.

PH-NO Cooperation

The long-standing bilateral maritime cooperation between Norway and the Philippines is a prime example of cross cultural synergy according to Mr. Solem. With approximately 25,000 Filipino seafarers on board Norwegian vessels today, the Philippines has been Norway’s valuable partner in the maritime sector. The Norwegian involvement in the maritime industry in the Philippines does not rest on employment of seafarers alone. Norway has also been significantly involved in raising the quality of education and training of seafarers in the country.

Solem said Norway’s century-long involvement in the Philippine maritime sector has been strengthened by the country’s excellent human resources. “The Philippines has a big potential for growth,” he said. Because of this, the ambassador said that Norway has been eyeing on investing in more industries in the Philippines.

Bilateral Relations

The Philippines and Norway have a long history of bilateral relations, owing mostly to cooperation in the maritime sector. Today, relations between our two countries have expanded to encompass not only the shipping industry, but also other business sectors, labor migration, and peace and reconciliation efforts.

There are approximately 18,000 Filipinos living in Norway. They are a very well-integrated minority group in the Norwegian society with a high level of participation in the work force. There is also a variety of active NGOs and interest groups working to promote Filipino culture in Norway. Every year the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day takes place in many communities around the country.

On the other hand, about 3,000 Norwegians are living in the Philippines. Some do business, some do charitable work, whilst others have established new families—or come to spend their retirement under the Philippine sun.

Trade and Economic Relations

Economic relations between our two countries comprise shipping, investments in industry, investments from the Norwegian government pension fund, and services, goods and commodities trade. The Philippines Norway Business Council (PNBC) unites the Norwegian business community in the Philippines and currently has more than 45 member companies and institutions. The Norwegian Embassy is a founding member and is permanently represented in the board of the council.

“The trade figures show a positive trend, cooperation, both multilaterally and bilaterally, is expanding, and the number of our respective nationals living in or visiting each other’s country increases year by year,” Solem said in a message on the embassy website. A lot of the business is still shipping related, but other sectors follow suit. There is also trade with services, goods and commodities. Chemical products are the main export commodity from Norway to the Philippines, followed by fish.

Conversely, electronics, machinery, transport equipment and miscellaneous manufactured articles account for about two thirds of the imports to Norway from the Philippines. Norwegian companies are showing an increased interest in the Philippines. Notably, investments in industrial enterprises have grown in recent years and have shown good profit margins. The energy sector shows promise, with the Philippines having significant potential in the development of hydropower plant and possibly large amounts of untapped natural gas and oil resources. Norway as an energy nation has decades of competence and experience in utilizing and managing such resources.

During the Nordic Ambassador’s Luncheon with Department of Trade and Industry Undersecretary Ponciano Manalo last June Solem called for two-way development of commercial cooperation, where the focus is not only on how Nordic companies can tap into the Philippine markets, but where Philippine companies also realize the potential of the Nordic region as a market. Secondly, he raised the importance of public and private sector collaboration in promoting trade and investment opportunities.

EU Maritime Audit

A maritime audit conducted in April 2013 by a European Union (EU) team on the Philippines’ maritime education and training put the Filipino seafarers’ future in jeopardy, particularly those working on vessels registered in the European Union (EU) countries. Solem finds this condition most serious, but expressed hoped that the Philippines will comply with the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (SCTW) to which the Philippines is a party.

“We sincerely hope that the necessary improvements will be done, but time is limited, and the seriousness of the situation should not be underestimated. But, he continued, “do look at this also in the positive way; to make such improvements, to ensure the necessary quality, control mechanisms etc. is the best investment the Philippine government can make. Through compliance with the said convention international demand for Filipino seafarers will just continue to grow!” Solem said.

Another audit was scheduled last month and Solem said Norway will abide by an EU decision. Although not a member of the EU, Norway is associated with the Union through its membership with the European Economic Area (EEA). Norwegian shipping companies employ about 25 000 Filipino seafarers aboard their ships or in shipyards, accounting for one third of the total number of seafarers on Norwegian controlled vessels.

The Norwegian Training Center in Manila provides relevant training for Filipino seafarers serving on Norwegian ships. Maritime cooperation has remained one of the key elements of our bilateral relations. The Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA/Sjøfartsdirektoratet) is currently assisting the Philippine Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) in an attempt to ensure that maritime/seafarer education is in compliance with the STCW Convention. A number of Norwegian shipping companies have offices in the Philippines.

“Filipino seafarers are not only important to us, I dare say they constitute a cornerstone of our maritime industry.” In light of this, as well as of the urgency of the matter, we have already given technical assistance to MARINA. Both we and other governments are willing to give further assistance, but needless to stress, the final responsibility lies with Philippine authorities,” Solem said.

Diplomatic Relations

Norway established diplomatic relations with the Philippines in 1948. From 1952 to 1956, Norway was represented by a Consulate, later, by a Consulate General in Manila. The Embassy was opened in 1967. The Embassy has three sub-sections, the Maritime Section, the Consular Section and the Visa Section. Norway also has a Honorary Consulate in Cebu. Today, Norway is the only Nordic country to have an embassy in Manila.
The Philippine Embassy in Norway was established in 2008, when it moved from Stockholm due to increasing cooperation in energy and the maritime sector, as well as the increasing number of Filipinos living in Norway. Today the embassy covers all the five Nordic countries from Oslo.

Norway supports a number of Filipino development projects, as well as NGOs working for human rights and social development in the Philippines, through its Peace and Reconciliation Fund. Norway is the third-party facilitator of peace talks between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Communist movement, NDFP. In addition, Norway participates in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao related to the peace process between the Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

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