Nordic-Scottish Conference on Rural and Regional Development.
Valgerður Sverrisdóttir Minister of Industry and Commerce
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to Iceland. I know that many of you have come a long way to participate in this conference.
In recent years the world has changed rapidly because of factors in technology, economy, politics and so on. These changes can be seen in increased globalisation which has affected at the same time the economy and culture on global, national and regional level – with both opportunities and threats - for business as well as people.
The key challenge is however to cope with these changes - and to take advantage of opportunities and strengths as well as create new ones for business, people and regions. Regions which successfully face the challenges of globalisation, are those who are best integrated into the world economy – based on domestic as well as international co-operation between regions and co-operation between regional authorities and companies, as well as clustering and networking between companies.
In my opinion the intention of conference like this is to provide the possibility for local actors to exchange knowledge and experience with local actors from other neighbouring countries facing similar challenges. Co-operation and partnerships with each other is of utmost importance.
Iceland has gone through a dramatic economic transformation in the twentieth century; from being among the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere to joining the club of the richest countries. Today, Iceland is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. The government places great importance on economic stability, competitiveness, and sustainable utilisation of our natural resources. Wide-ranging structural measures have been implemented in Iceland in the past decade or so, in order to increase competition and efficiency in the economy, for the benefit of both consumers and the business sector. Today, we are going through yet another economic transformation as we are finishing a comprehensive privatisation programme and liberalising markets.
It has been the mission of the Icelandic government to maintain the population in rural areas of the country and to create equal opportunities for employment, culture and education – regardless where people choose to live. The main focus of regional development policy in Iceland has been on innovation and knowledge as a way to strengthen the countryside – as we can no longer count on traditional fishing industry and agriculture for our wellbeing in the future.
Good transport conditions and telecommunications are also vital if the countryside is to be able to compete with more densely populated areas. It is therefore pleasant that the Icelandic government recently decided to use a large amount of money from resent privatisation of the Iceland Telecom on improving roads, telecommunications and broadband infrastructure in rural areas of the country.
And speaking of communication.
A conference like this will hopefully increase mutual understanding, making us better prepared to cope with the challenges we are facing – in a rapidly changing world of globalisation - and hopefully turn them into economic and cultural value for regions, countries, business and people.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I hope that you enjoy this interesting conference and that you will take home with you good memories and impressions from your visit to Iceland.