Norway - Sri Lanka: Consistent partners

A key priority for Norwegian aid in Sri Lanka is to assist in the work for a political solution, national reconciliation, democratisation and strengthening of human rights.

by Thorbjørn Gaustadsæther

In Norway, today, 17 May, marks the signing of the Norwegian Constitution that took place in 1814. This is Norway’s national day and everyone, especially children, celebrate this event with street parades all over the country. 

This year, as we mark our National Day, less than a month after the senseless Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, Norway stands in solidarity with Sri Lanka and its entire people. Norway has been with Sri Lanka through many different phases and we continue to stand together with the people of Sri Lanka. Our bilateral ties that span seven decades is ample proof of our commitment to be a consistent partner for our common future. 

Norway and Sri Lanka have developed strong bilateral relations since diplomatic relations was established in 1952. Our countries share democratic values and interests, and are strong supporters of multilateral cooperation, international law including human rights law, and a strong United Nations system. The oceans are of great importance to the past and future of both countries. Norway and Sri Lanka share a strong and common interest in the sustainable management and use of our oceans and the blue economy.

Increasing political ties 

Development cooperation between Norway and Sri Lanka dates back to 1967 since the time of Ceynor Development Foundation, which worked towards economic development and social upliftment of economically and socially oppressed groups among coastal communities in Sri Lanka. 

After the end of the war, since Sri Lanka became a lower middle-income country in 2010, there has been a gradual reduction in development assistance, but bilateral relations in other areas such as high-level political visits, and economic cooperation have increased. 

Most recently, Norwegian State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Marianne Hagan visited Sri Lanka in March 2019, and announced Norway’s contribution of approx. $ 7 million for demining work in Sri Lanka. In October 2018, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe visited Norway reciprocating the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s visit to Sri Lanka in August 2016. 

Norwegian State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte visited Sri Lanka in June 2018 coinciding with the arrival of the research vessel Dr. Fridtjof Nansen. The visit of the research vessel highlighted the importance of sustainable use of the oceans, which is a priority for Norway’s international agenda. The research vessel also helped Sri Lanka to improve resource mapping and management of marine resources. 

Kamzy Gunaratnam, the Sri Lankan born Deputy Mayor of the city of Oslo, visited Sri Lanka in January this year to share her experiences as a young woman in politics with Sri Lankan youth. Gunaratnam is the head of the City of Oslo’s 17th of May Committee this year and the official organiser of the National Day’s celebration in the Norwegian capital today.

Norwegian development aid 

A key focus area in today’s bilateral development cooperation is technical capacity building in sectors where Norway has special expertise, and our bilateral assistance goes through multilateral partners as well as Norwegian institutions that cooperate with Sri Lankan organisations. 

Norwegian and Sri Lankan Ministries of Fisheries collaborated to develop Sri Lanka’s new fisheries policy. Norway’s Institute of Marine Research and its Sri Lankan sister organisation, National Aquatic Resources Research & Development Agency (NARA) continue to work together on research and data. Norwegian Geotechnical Institute collaborates with the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) on warning systems and landslides mapping. 

Norway also supports Sri Lanka to achieve its clean energy transition goals through the International Finance Corporation (IFC). A multi-year collaboration between the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences and the University of Jaffna supports nanotechnology and clean energy related work. ICT Norway and Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) work together to share knowledge and also promote ICT education among youth and children through projects such as “kids can code”. 

In 2018, Norway extended approx. $ 6 million to Sri Lanka in development aid in a wide range of programmes ranging from good governance, civil society engagement, women’s empowerment to job creation. We will also explore further cooperation in areas such as innovation and ocean-technology, fisheries and aquaculture, and sustainability of fisheries resources. 

A key priority for Norwegian aid in Sri Lanka is to assist in the work for a political solution, national reconciliation, democratisation and strengthening of human rights. For many years, the Embassy has supported local civil society organisations for efforts relating to freedom of expression, free press, anti-corruption, peace and reconciliation, as well as women and gender equality.  

Substantial support is given to the resettlement of internally-displaced persons in the north after the conflict through UN’s Development Programme (UNDP), and job creation and livelihood opportunities through UNDP and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Norwegian investments and trade

During recent years, there has been increased focus on business cooperation and promotion of economic interests between the Sri Lanka and Norway. The Government Pension Fund Global, which is one of the largest funds in the world has invested in Sri Lankan companies since 2015. By the end of 2018, it had invested $ 98.3 million in Sri Lankan stocks. 

Trade between Norway and Sri Lanka has increased steadily in recent years. Imports from Sri Lanka to Norway have increased from $ 20 million in 2010 to $ 42 million in 2017. During the same period, Norwegian exports to Sri Lanka have also increased. 

Two large Norwegian aquaculture projects; Sterner As and Ceylon Continental Seafood are looking to invest in Sri Lanka. These potential investments could total over $ 30 million and they could be the two largest aquaculture investments in Sri Lanka. 

At present more than 30 Norwegian companies are based in Sri Lanka. These Norwegian companies vary from hotels and IT companies to boat building and fish farming businesses. Together, the Norwegian companies have created around 10,000 jobs in Sri Lanka. Many of these companies were part of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce›s Business Match Making Program, which lasted from 1994 to 2015.

A consistent partner 

Next week, Norway-Sri Lanka ties will further strengthen when Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana attends the conference ‘Closing the gaps in Humanitarian response to sexual and gender based violence’ in  Norway. 

Through our cooperation with Sri Lanka for 70 long years, we have seen the resilience of the people of Sri Lanka to rise up after many challenging times that this country and its people faced ranging from the tsunami, to the civil war. 

In this trying time, it is important for all Sri Lankans to set aside their differences and come together as one nation to take Sri Lanka forward. Norway is committed to be a consistent partner with Sri Lanka for our common future.

(The writer is Ambassador of Norway to Sri Lanka and Maldives.)

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