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Minister's report on Foreign Policy and International Affairs to Parliament

20.3.2014

Today Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, submitted his report on Foreign Policy and International Affairs to Althingi. The contents of the report cover the period from February 2013.

„Throughout the years Icelandic authorities have sought to open up new markets for our products, our culture and intellectual property with the aim of increasing prosperity in Iceland,“ the Minister said in his speech to Althingi. „Providing security is one of the core responsibilities of any Government and in its quest, Iceland has always chosen the path of international cooperation, concluded defence agreements with our allies and emphasised peace and human rights.“

Among issues that are raised in the Report are:

·         Iceland‘s external trade policy reflects the rapid changes that have occurred in the world economy. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is looking into how to better utilise trade opportunities for Iceland and in what way Iceland can strengthen its ties to emerging markets. The emphasis will be put on an increased number of trade agreements, seek ways to make better use of existing trade agreements and continue monitoring closely the trade talks between the European Union and the United States.

·         In many ways Iceland enjoys a privileged position in world trade. Our access to our core market, EU's internal market, is guaranteed through our membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). Iceland's trade with the US is based on a solid foundation and there are signs that there might be growth areas in that respect. As a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Iceland is a part of a wide net of free trade agreements that cover large parts of the world. Moreover, Iceland has the opportunity to seek its own bilateral trade agreements such as it did with the world's most populated nation, China, and one of the world's least populated nation, the Faroe Islands.

·         One of the core areas of the Foreign Service's work is to assist Icelandic citizens that find themselves in dire situation abroad. In any given week many cases arise where Foreign Ministry staff need to apply their resourcefulness. Our responses are often based on Iceland's network of 244 honorary consuls who are always ready to act in the interest of Icelanders in need of assistance.

·         The development of the Arctic is very important for Iceland. A few months ago the Government established a special Ministerial Committee on Arctic matters which will guarantee a coordinated approach towards Iceland's interests in this field.

·         Iceland reached an important milestone towards the end of 2013 when we opened a Consulate in Nuuk, Greenland. Icelandic and Greenlandic Government officials are currently working towards establishing trade dialogue with the aim of lowering trade barriers and facilitate closer cooperation.

·         Iceland's successful cooperation with the European Union revolves around the EEA Agreement. The Government's new Europe policy is based on reinforced representation of Iceland's interests on the platform of the EEA Agreement and other current agreements between Iceland and the EU. The policy prioritises efficient implementation of the EEA Agreement, including by improving consultation within the administration and with Althingi.

·         Iceland‘s priorities in Development Aid policy are threefold: social infrastructure; natural resources; and peace, in conjunction with two cross-cutting issues, gender issues and environmental issues. Iceland still aims to allocate 0.7% of GDP towards Development Aid although this will take somewhat longer time than previously expected.

·         A Committee of Parliamentarians has recently submitted its proposals for a National Security Policy which touches upon Foreign Policy, Defence Policy and Civil Protection. On the basis of these proposals the Minister for Foreign Affairs will submit a resolution to Althingi on the Icelandic National Security Policy.

·         There has been a substantial increase in Iceland‘s cooperation with neighbouring states in the field of security. Last month Ministers for Foreign Affairs from the Nordic countries made a common statement on further strengthening their cooperation in Foreign Policy and Security. This statement establishes a strong framework around the practical cooperation between the Nordic countries on these issues. At the same time a new chapter was written in NATO‘s air policing as Finnish and Swedish forces joined hands with other Nordic nations in the joint Nordic air defence exercise Iceland Air Meet 2014.

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