Thorir Ibsen took charge as Ambassador of Iceland to India in 2014. Before this, Ibsen, with a Masters in International Relations, served as Ambassador to many countries, including European Union and Belgium, with accreditation to Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and San Marino, from 2011 to 2014. He was also Ambassador to France with accreditation to Italy, Spain and Andorra. Not only this, Ibsen has a very prolific education career. He graduated in Political Science from University of Iceland and has done Masters in International relations from York University, Canada.
Recently, Wow Air, an Iceland-based carrier, launched its flights to India at very economical prices. The airline will start its services from December and will fly from New Delhi to Reykjavik and to US destinations like New York. On the sidelines of the launch, the Ambassador spoke to Rakesh Kumar about how this direct flight will help tourism in Iceland and increase business ties with India. Excerpts:
How will this direct flight build tourism in Iceland?
Iceland today receives two million tourists in a year, but Indian share is far too low, compared to the size of India as a country. Over the past four years there is 50 per cent yearly increase in Indian tourist arrival. Even though the pace has been increasing, we have sensed many of them have avoided because we don’t have direct flights. The direct flight is going to transform many Indians to come to us. With this new flight, Iceland will become a big hub of trans-Atlantic flights. Then there will be an attractive proposition for many people flying to North America, considering Indian diaspora is huge, both in Canada and the US. (Also,) the possibility of Indian tourists or family to stopover in Iceland.
Why are there very little high level exchanges between India and Iceland?
The political connection is very good between India and Iceland and it has always been. We have good political relations since 1970 June but we started embassies relatively late. We opened our embassies here in 2006 and India opened its embassy in Iceland in 2007. We have no major issues or complications between us. It means the relationship is good. Our principle focus in India is business-related and investment-related. Also, there is co-operation in research and development and growing interest in student exchange between India and Iceland.
Can you tell us about economic ties between the two countries?
India is not a classic market for Iceland. Iceland is primarily a food-exporting country, it exports fish and lamb. That is the interest in exporting to India but high-tech sectors are more interested in India. Two of the largest companies ~ Iceland Marel and Ossur ~ are both located and have a presence in India. Marel is a high-tech company that produces food processing equipments and Ossur is a medical equipment company, that produces prosthetics ~ all the support equipment when you break or twist ankle. Bio-technology companies are coming to market a lot and IT sector is strong here. India has turned out to be more high-tech connection for Iceland rather than traditional export market.
Are there any defence ties?
No… We don’t have defence industry. There is no defence-related business between India and Iceland. But we, of course, share similar security concerns and when it comes to security, then in many things, India and Iceland see-eye-to-eye. Anti-terrorism for example. (We allow) free navigation of the seas.
Iceland is a beautiful place. Are there any plans to promote it as a destination for the Indian film Industry?
It is. Indian film industry has been picking it up very fast. We receive round about two productions a year. Indian part is not big as that of Hollywood. Hollywood production is huge in Iceland but India is picking up. The biggest and most important production was in 2015 when Gerua, the title song of Shah Rukh Khan starrer Dilwale movie was shot in Iceland. That attracted 200 million views on Youtube. And direct flight is going to help the film industry come more and more to Iceland.
What is the situation of Indian Diaspora in Iceland?
They are relatively strong in Iceland. Ten per cent of population are immigrants in Iceland, and Indian population is not huge. It is in the area of 200-300 people. But don’t forget, we are 350,000 people. That’s a relatively sizable amount of people. They are pretty distributed around the country and most of them are in high-tech or medical sectors, start-up companies and Indian restaurants. They are not concentrated at one location but distributed in the whole city.
Does Iceland support India’s candidature for UNSC?
Indeed. Iceland was one of the first Nordic countries that gave India support. And you have our support.