After completing his MA in History from the University of Oslo, Nils Ragnar Kamsvag, Ambassador of Norway to India, joined the MFA in 1981. After being the Secretary of the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Rome,in 1989,he was assigned a number of high-profile assignments including the one as Head of Information Division, MFA in 1993,which were succeeded by various roles including those as Ambassador, Middle East and North African Affairs, MFA from 2001 till 2003, as the Norwegian Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Al Ram till 2005, as Project Manager, Crisis Management, MFA till 2006 and many others. From 2010 to 2015, Ambassador Kamsvag served as Ambassador to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro Royal Norwegian Embassy, Belgrade. In this interview to The Statesman News Service he talks about the growing cooperation between India and Norway and the future prospects.
How do you look at current state of economic and political relations between India and Norway?
Our current political and economic relationship is more comprehensive than at any time in the 400 years of IndoNorwegian history. From Polar issues to research, defence or environmental issues: The scope of Indo-Norwegian relations is steadily growing more comprehensive.
No wonder then that Norway’s commercial profile in India has grown substantially over the last two decades. Few know that Norway is one of the major European investors in India, thanks to the growing investments of the Norwegian Pension Fund Global – the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.
With India’s re-emergence as a global power, we also attach great significance to strengthened political contact. The tremendous growth ~ both physically and in terms of staff – of our Embassy and the Consulate General in Mumbai over the last years, testify to this effort. Nevertheless, there is still a vast and unfulfilled potential for increased co-operation between our two countries. This is work in progress, as it were.
Why is Norway not a part of the European Union (EU)?
The short answer to this interesting question is the fact that the Norwegian people declined membership in the EU by popular vote two times: once in 1972 and then again in 1994. There are many theories for this. Many Norwegians felt uncertain about the consequences of a membership for our social standards, for democratic influence and for the future of our relative small-scale agriculture and for our rich marine resources.
In sum, the majority of the voters felt Norway was better off without a membership. And to be honest, one must admit that our country has fared pretty well without a membership. However, it is important to underline that Norway is a member of the single European market, with the exception of fish and agricultural products, through our membership in the European Economic Area (EEA). Norway is also a member of Schengen, so we are very much integrated with the EU ~ although not as full members.
You have been negotiating a mutual legal assistance treaty in criminal matters with India for quite some time. What is the progress on it?
We are aware of the treaty negotiations. I am sure relevant authorities on both sides are closely following this.
India claims to be a victim of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan.What is Norway’s view in the matter?
We take a strong stand on terrorism, no matter where it stems from. It is the responsibility of all countries to prevent cross-border terrorism originating from within its borders.
Does Norway support India’s candidature for a permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council and its accession to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group?
For Norway, functional international institutions are of crucial importance. Only in that way can we secure a predictable, peaceful and rulesbased international order. We believe the world’s largest democracy, and a rising global power, must have a larger say in the formal structures of world politics. Norway thus supports a permanent seat for India in the UN Security council. The council must change with the times to remain potent and relevant. Increased power should reflect increased international responsibility.
What are the areas in which you think India and Norway can intensify cooperation?
To be frank, all of them. But we are particularly eager to strengthen our co-operation within fields like research and development, biotechnology, renewable energy, climate change, and ~ as a nation that has lived with, by and on the sea for 2,000 years ~ all matters related to the so-called blue economy. The immense ocean spaces that both our countries have been blessed with offer exciting prospects for the future. Norway has cuttingedge expertise in this field, from aquaculture to shipping, subsea-technology and research. This is nothing less than an “ocean of opportunities”, as the Indian Navy aptly puts it in its recruitment ads.
How popular are Indian culture and Indian cuisines in Norway?
They are becoming increasingly popular all over Norway. One finds Indian restaurants across Norway. We may, of course, tone down the spices a bit! There was a very popular annual mela held in Norway, where this year, Indian personalities like Ila Arun took part. A Bollywood festival also takes place in Norway annually.
Indians are nowadays spending a lot on tourism. Do you have any plans to organise road-shows in India to promote Norway as a tourist destination in this country?
The Scandinavian Tourism Board does regular activities across India round the year. We have seen a dramatic visa growth from India in recent years. Indian tourist numbers to Norway continue to grow steadily as India now reaches the third spot after China and Russia in visitor visas. With a 16 per cent increase so far since 2016, the number of Indian tourists to Norway is consistently increasing. In the first half of 2017 (January-June), more than 11,000 visas were issued to Indian citizens. In comparison, the data from 10 years ago for the similar period shows only 3500 visas. These figures are also reflective of a global trend.
A total of 98,554 visitor visas have been issued globally by Norway from January-June 2017, showing a clear upward growth in the numbers since 2007, when 109,700 visas were issued for the whole year. What is also new is that we have a strong growth of winter tourism, also from India, to a great extent due to the fascination with the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, which can be experienced all over Northern Norway during winter.
This is a welcome growth as we continue making efforts to promote Norway as an attractive destination for Indians, through films also. However, we have a pan-India approach in this regard as well, and our focus is not only on Bollywood but also South Indian cinema, which is equally big and important from our perspective. Since 2015, six Indian films have been shot in Norway and this trend continues.