India to play active role in Arctic Council

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Nearly a month after India was admitted as an observer into the mineral-rich Arctic Council, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is visiting Norway, a member of the eight-nation forum, where he will pay a visit to the Indian research station, Himadri, in Svalbard

Khurshid is visiting Norway from June 11-13.

India’s research station in the Arctic, Himadri, is operated by the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research. It was set up in 2008.

The Arctic region is estimated to hold 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.

“We are extremely interested in the Arctic region and intend to play an active role in the Arctic Council too,” said external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin at a briefing, adding that it would be an area of focus for Khurshid while he is in Norway.

Norway is the third largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia and Russia and it also has expertise in deep sea oil extraction. “So, there will be areas of cooperation, and with that we could learn from Norway some of the best practices that they adopt in that area,” Akbaruddin said.

The eight Arctic nations are: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. India alongwith China, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore were granted observer status by the Arctic Council on May 15.

India has four scientists working at the Himadri research station. India has spent $3 million on research activities so far and plans to enhance the amount, Akbaruddin informed. “During the next five years an amount of about $12 million is expected to be spent on research through the Himadri centre,” he added.

Around 170 Indian scientists have written on Arctic research matters and 18 Indian institutions are focused on research related to climate through the Arctic.

Khurshid would hold bilateral meetings with his counterpart Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide and also meet senior officials in the Norwegian government, including Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Norway is one of the world’s largest petroleum exporters.

Trade will be a major focus of Khurshid’s visit. The Government Pension Fund, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund which has a capital of $720 billion and is into petroleum, is keen to invest in India. Its areas of interest are maritime, oil and gas, shipping and hydropower, the country’s envoy Eivind S. Homme had told IANS last month.

Officials of the sovereign wealth fund had visited India in April and met Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Khurshid “intends to take this discussion forward and to see how we can facilitate greater investments into India including in the infrastructure sector through the Sovereign Wealth Fund that Norway has”, the spokesperson said.

Norway is also pushing India to conclude the trade agreement with the four-nation European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The EFTA members are Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

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