Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is the first Norwegian PM to undertake a bilateral visit to India in 10 years. She spoke to Nalin Mehta on why Norway’s sovereign pension fund has invested significantly in India and on why India and Pakistan should talk more:
It has been 10 years since a Norwegian PM came to India. In terms of doing business, to what extent has India changed since then, especially in the last five years?
There is a lot of change in India and its villages in the last 10 years. Of course, economic growth has begun, wealth development began for people and of course, it has become easier to do business. Still, there is need for making sure there is transparency in decision making around whole of India so that there is security around decision-making. But the improvement on doing business is big. We have improved the relationship between India and Norway on practical work, especially on research, development. Also, there is more business-to-business cooperation because our economy and your economy have developed into new sectors.
Norway’s sovereign fund, Europe’s second largest, is also a big investor in India. When you look at the global economy, how does India look as an investment destination?
Our sovereign fund looks to India for more investment in the future because it is a global economy. The fund of Norway currently owns around 1.5% of all registered stocks of the world stock exchanges and it is a long-term investment company. It follows swift change in the world economy, which of course means that Asia has a growing importance in the portfolio.
The Norwegian sovereign fund moved more investments into India and Asia because the economic growth is big.
So, are you looking to increase those investments in India?
We don’t pick investments but we do have an index that they will follow. It is not a policy tool. As long as the Indian economy is growing, the Norwegian pension fund will own more in Indian business.
Norway also invests in development programmes in several Indian states. In your view, which are the states that have done well and which need more work?
We have been invited into some projects. The Norway-India partnership was basically focussed on pre-natal and post-natal health in four states including Rajasthan. It aimed to get mothers to go to hospitals to give birth. It has been a great project and I know it has been copied by other states in India. That is where Norway can add, by trying to be constructive in financing new innovative approaches.
On the other hand, today development aid is not a big issue between Norway and India because India also has a policy of saying we can deal with our own development. It is a large economy and it is more a question of distribution of that economy than it is a concern of health.
One of your predecessors, former Norway PM Kjell Magne Bondevik recently visited Kashmir. Is that something that the government of Norway supports?
Mr Bondevik runs a private peace institute and this was private travel. It’s not part of any governmental approach to Kashmir. It is not a policy issue for us. We do peace negotiations in several countries when the partners invite us to do it. But there is no Norwegian initiative on this.
Do you think India and Pakistan should talk more?
I think all countries should talk more, also India and Pakistan. I think India and Pakistan should decrease military expenditure, investing more in education and health. Other countries should also do it. But I also know that history is difficult between countries and that different power bases might have a way of wanting to nurture differences between countries in internal politics. So, it is difficult but I think we all should talk more.
India is extremely important on a world basis as a large G-20 country, but it is an important figure in the region here. We all know that we need to stabilise Afghanistan, and neighbouring countries should talk more so that they put it in their national interest approach. Of course, everybody who follows Afghanistan policies knows that there are different neighbouring countries who have different interests in Afghanistan.
You think there is scope for mediation on Kashmir?
I hope for mediation everywhere but I think it is up to all the partners to discuss and see if there is any possibility. We don’t come up with any fixed ideas about these things. It is something that all partners have to address.
India has also been advocating for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. What is Norway’s position on that?
Our position is that the Security Council should reflect shifts in power we have seen. India is a candidate for that, which we would support. But it is part of UN reform which is stuck for the time being.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.