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S.D. Gunnarsdottir: Address to World Summit 2014

Address to World Summit 2014, Seoul, Korea, August 9-13, 2014

The issues that we are discussing here today are extremely important for the future peace, stability and prosperity in Europe and Eurasia. The serious crisis that have unfolded in Ukraine in the past months have cast a disturbing light on the way we view peace and stability in our region. The repercussions of these events do affect international relations far beyond our continent. The sad thing is that most of us were under the impression that the actions and cold-war rhetoric that the crisis in Ukraine prompted were far behind us in history. Therefore, I welcome the fact that today we can approach these very serious issues from different angles.

As we have learned in previous statements today, we may differ in the methods we wish to use, but on the other hand I think it’s safe to say that our main goals are the same; to provide Europe and the Eurasia region with the long-term prospect of peace, security and prosperity.

One might think that there are not that many lessons that can be drawn from Iceland. I argue that Iceland has used its modest means as a small state in the international system to strengthen the very foundations of democracy, security and economic development that we have been discussing. This we have been able to do, because our voice as an independent and sovereign nation can be heard, loud and clear, even though we are only 300,000 people.

And this we have been able to do, because we have been fortunate enough to enjoy political and economic partnership with our friends and allies, on an equal footing. This has made us able to have a distinct voice in the international arena.

I believe that the strongest elements – and the strongest incentives – for sound foundations for regional stability, lie in economic independence. That is to say, that nations are made able to pursue economic growth incrementally and in close partnership with one another, with their core strengths as a central feature. In my opinion, there can never be one-size-fits-all.

Iceland has pursued its economic relations in three ways: as members of the European Economic Area; as member of EFTA and its wide-ranging global network of free trade agreements; and through bilateral trade agreements.

The EEA Agreement continues to be the cornerstone of our relations with the EU. The European Union is our most important trade partner and this agreement gives us a unique access to the Single Market of the EU and we apply the four freedoms. Through this highly sophisticated and complex agreement, we introduce into Icelandic legislation EU law on a broad scale of issues. In short, our membership of the EEA is a privileged partnership that has brought Iceland (Norway and Liechtenstein) enormous opportunities for the Icelandic economy.

Europe is a close and natural ally of Iceland. We have cultural heritage and history, core values and interests in common with the European nations. Iceland has the greatest affiliations with Europe. It is an integral part of the European extended family. Iceland’s history shows that the nation’s prosperity has invariably bloomed when ties with Europe have been the closest. We draw strength from European cooperation that is conducted on an equal footing.

Iceland‘s economy is highly export-driven. Exports of goods and services amounted to 59% of GDP in 2011 and our main markets remain in Europe and the US. The government continues to emphasize external trade and the focus is on new and emerging markets. In this context the main framework is set by the agreements negotiated by the 4 EFTA countries. Currently the network of FTAs being of 26 agreements (covering 35 countries). Negotiations are ongoing with several countries. An important element to keep in mind is that EFTA is the number 4 trading partner after the EU, USA, China and Russia.

The point I want to underscore in this context, is that we may be individually small, but together we do not go unnoticed. As members of EFTA we can pursue our core strengths in partnership, not competition, with our partners. This has proven to be hugely valuable for Iceland.

Thirdly, our stake in the internal market or our membership of EFTA have not prevented us from pursuing our own trade agreements, most notably our FTA with China, that entered into force only a few weeks ago.

You may ask, why do I bring up these elements of our trade policy? These facts underline my argument that a nation’s economic independence is paramount to build on the core values we share. Economic independence promotes knowledge which in turn furthers and deepens our future prospects. Each and every nation, small and large, places its weight on that scale. To illustrate this, allow me to draw your attention to two areas which Iceland has focused on, both in its trade relations and in its development policy.

Our world is wealthy but this wealth is not only reserved in the minerals of the earth, the power of the rivers or the rich living marine resources. Our greatest wealth is people - the knowledge, the experiences, the constant journey to explore and invent new solutions. Iceland makes use of these assets in both its trade policy and its development cooperation.

We are proud to offer the world our expertise where it can make a real difference - for the development of geothermal energy, sustainable fisheries management, restoration of fertile land, and the promotion of gender equality.

More than 2500 experts from all parts of the world, have benefited from the activities of the four UN University Training Programmes in Iceland since the first one was established 35 years ago. It is important to emphasize in this context that Iceland, with its abundance of renewable energy sources, was at a very different level only a few decades ago. As a matter of fact it was still seen as a third world country in the 50´s.

Since then, the country has undergone a true energy revolution which has now led to a productive partnership between Iceland and the United Nations and the World Bank.

I have aimed to raise the argument that the exercise of solving conflicts and the pursuit of democracy, stability and security needs to be underscored by continuing to weave the ever-expanding global network of economic ties. In that respect, we must avoid trying to fit all into the same shape and form. We should rather aim to build on accumulated knowledge and continue to break down barriers to the expansion of democracy and prosperity.

I strongly believe that when we address the crisis in Ukraine or crises elsewhere in the world, these elements need to be reminded of and brought to the table.

For more information about the World Summit, click here.