Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Trine Joranli Eskedal speaks to the Daily Mirror about the direction of bilateral relations under current circumstances. Norway played the role of peace facilitator between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the LTTE. Bilateral ties have also faced ups and downs over the years. However, the ambassador emphasises on the need for more Norwegian investment in Sri Lanka.
Excerpts of the interview with Trine Joranli Eskedal:
QIn what direction does Norway- Sri Lanka relation take?
This month, we’re celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations. In October 1950, we established bilateral, diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka. At that time, Sri Lanka was covered by our Embassy in New Delhi. In 1976, we established a development office here with a Resident Representative. In 1996, we opened a fully-fledged Embassy in Colombo. I am pleased to have this interview with you as we are celebrating our 70 years of diplomatic ties. The fisheries sector was the starting point of our bilateral relations. We have developed it and expanded into where we are today and it is one of the pillars of our bilateral relations. In addition, we support amongst other initiatives, job creation, business development and women’s empowerment. We also work with the ICT sector for our cooperation.
QWhat is the present status of the fisheries sector cooperation?
As I mentioned, the whole of the fisheries sector started with the CEYNOR project. Many Sri Lankans are aware of it. From there, we have developed our relations into different areas of the fisheries sector. The main part is cooperation with the Fisheries Ministry to develop a strategy for the fisheries’ policy as well as aquaculture. We’re currently looking into prospects on how we can continue. The second engagement is more on the technical side between the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research and NARA in Sri Lanka. It is a technical cooperation on assembling data. Part of our fisheries engagement is also to explore possibilities for business ventures. We have a Norwegian company building fishing boats here as well as others exploring the possibility of fish farming.
We have observed an increased number of Norwegian tourists coming to Sri Lanka. We are looking more on how to shift from purely development cooperation into harnessing bigger investments to Sri Lanka
QThe political landscape has changed in Sri Lanka. There is a new Government with a two-thirds majority. How do you look to future ties with Sri Lanka in that context?
Well, over the last few years we have experienced an increased interest in Sri Lanka. We have had a number of high-level bilateral visits and an increase in people-to-people contacts. We have observed an increased number of Norwegian tourists coming to Sri Lanka. We are looking more on how to shift from purely development cooperation into harnessing bigger investments to Sri Lanka – also promoting Sri Lanka to the Norwegian business community and taking an interest in business activities.
QSri Lanka is strategically positioned in the Indian Ocean. How does Norway view it?
Sri Lanka is a country with a huge potential when it comes to many sectors. We’re considering possibilities in areas where we have interests and competence. Together with Sri Lanka we share many mutual interests. One of them is the ocean and blue economy. We are looking into the maritime sector, the renewable energy sector and the fisheries sector. Those are areas where Sri Lanka can still develop a lot more.
- Norway has expressed the need to work on these issues. Of course, Sri Lanka also recently decided not to co-sponsor the resolution any longer. That is where we’re today. The resolution is up for discussion in March next year
QIs there any ongoing dialogue with the new Government on the clean energy sector?
Well, we’re doing a project with the Jaffna University that cooperates with the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in the clean energy sector. One part of the project is to develop better knowledge and competence at the university on the clean energy technology. The other part of cooperation is more innovating. We have put together Sri Lanka’s first floating solar panel in a water tank at the university premises. We have done it with a Norwegian investor in solar energy. The main idea is to showcase the possibility of using floating solar as a means to get more clean energy. We think this will help get more investment. It has been a big success.
QWhat are the investments lined up from the sovereign wealth funds of Norway?
We call it the Norwegian Global Pension Fund. It is one of the largest investment funds in the world. They started investing in Sri Lanka in 2015 and have continued investment from the fund for five years. We have observed doubling of investments. Today, it is 114 million US Dollars. Investments are made in 20 Sri Lankan companies. It is mainly investments in stock.
QThe new Government said it would resume gas and oil exploration. Earlier, the Norwegian company named TGS- NOPEC was involved in it. Is there any new plan from the Norwegian side?
Well, I think Sri Lanka’s plans on the oil and gas sectors are at the initial stages. We are following on this matter. There has been some interest from Norwegian companies. A study done by the Norwegian oil company ‘Equinor’. At this stage, there is no such engagement. I think they are waiting to see how things are planned out by the government. This is mainly for the engagement of the private sector.
QIt means Norway is willing to cooperate in this area if the Government is ready?
Any kind of request by the Government will be closely followed up. At this stage, we’re looking at what has been done earlier. We’re aware that we aren’t the only country interested in this sector in Sri Lanka.
QDoes it mean that you would work together with India in this regard?
As mentioned earlier, we’re following developments, but have currently no engagement.
It is extremely important to make sure that your resources in the ocean are sustainable. You have to agree with your neighbouring countries on how to resolve those issues. In that sense, Norway has a lot of experience
QSri Lanka-Norway bilateral relations have always faced ups and downs. Norway came under attack over its peace facilitator role. How do you look at that past?
I think, for the sake of history, it is important to underline that Norway’s role as a facilitator during the peace process was on invitation both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. It was not something that Norway proposed. It was something that we were asked to do. The reason for asking might have been that we’re a small country located far away. Already, we had experience in brokering peace with the Oslo Accords in the Middle East in 1992. During the Norwegian engagement, we have to remember that there was also a huge international support between 2002 and 2004 to find a solution in Sri Lanka. Norway was acting only on instructions of the two parties. We were never part of decision-making. It was to help the two parties.
QBut, forces linked with one party to the conflict keep raising various issues related to human rights and accountability. Has Norway taken up any position in this regard?
If you talk about the UNHRC process, Norway is not a member of the core group. Nor are we currently a member of the Council. We do, of course, follow the work done in the Council closely. It is also important to underline that we do share the concerns that have been raised when it comes to commitments. Norway has expressed the need to work on these issues. Of course, Sri Lanka also recently decided not to co-sponsor the resolution any longer. That is where we’re today. The resolution is up for discussion in March next year. We will have to see what the Government of Sri Lanka decides on regarding that issue.
QWhat is your position on the decision of the new Government to withdraw from co-sponsorship?
The Government of Sri Lanka has withdrawn from co-sponsorship. The resolution stands until March, next year. In between, we’re waiting for the Government of Sri Lanka to come forward with how they want to engage further on this - how they want to engage with the international community. We, of course, are in dialogue. We put forward that we want to be in dialogue with Sri Lanka.
QDid you receive any response?
Given the current COVID-19 situation, nothing has so far been said, on the way forward.
QHow is ongoing cooperation in the fight against the pandemic?
In addition to our support to our local partners, which amounts to about US$ 61,000, Norway has contributed a lot in the fight against COVID-19 through global funds. Norway contributed to establish a UN global fund to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and provided a first contribution of US$ 15 million. Sri Lanka has been receiving a lot of funding from the UN funds for fighting COVID-19. That is one part where Norway has supported Sri Lanka. In addition to an initial contribution of US$ 1 million to WHO, Norway has pledged US$ 9 million in support of the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP). Several countries, including Sri Lanka are now using the open license solution.
CEPI is coordinating the development of new vaccines. Norway has contributed substantially to CEPI in financial terms; with NOK 1.6 billion in the period 2017- 2025. In addition, Norway has increased its support to CEPI by approximately USD 220 million for their work to develop vaccines against the virus.
QNorway has the expertise in the fisheries sector. Sri Lanka is a victim of IUU fishing by South Indian fisherman. What can Norway suggest in this regard?
Norway has a lot of experience in dealing with how to manage resources in the ocean- one of them being the fisheries. It is extremely important to make sure that your resources in the ocean are sustainable. You have to agree with your neighbouring countries on how to resolve those issues. In that sense, Norway has a lot of experience. So far, we have not received any request from Sri Lanka or India. But, we do have a certain amount of expertise in these matters if there are requests.