Norwegian Ambassador on Malaysian strengths

H.E. Hans Ola Urstad encourages Norwegian companies to look outside Kuala Lumpur

H.E. Hans Ola Urstad was appointed the Norwegian Ambassador in Malaysia in 2012. Before coming to Malaysia, Hans Ola Urstad was already an experienced diplomat. He has been working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1980, and besides assignments as Consul General in San Francisco and Ambassador in Belgrade, he was appointed Head of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Mission to Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.

From 2012, he became the Ambassador to Norway in Kuala Lumpur, and from 2014, he received accreditation to Brunei. According to the Ambassador himself, the main focus is on Malaysia, since Norwegian business in Brunei is limited. In Malaysia, however, he explains that there is a quite vibrant network of Norwegian industries.

A focus on business
As every other embassy, the Norwegian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur deals with a lot of different issues. For the 65-year-old diplomat, however, the most important one seems to be creating a good environment for the Norwegian businesses in Malaysia.

“It is a mixed picture, but the main reason for being here is of course to try and support the Norwegian businesses as much as possible,” he explains, “and to work as closely as possible with these companies, also with the help from Innovation Norway with whom we are working very closely.”

Furthermore, he explains that the embassy also has other very important work such as political and economical reporting, consular issues and so on – but with the main focus on the Norwegian businesses in the country.

Malaysian strengths
Hans Ola Urstad sees a lot of advantages in starting or expanding your business or investing in especially this particular South East Asian country.

“Norwegian companies have very good business here, partly due to the stabile conditions we have in Malaysia,” he says, “and we have seen that most companies stay here.”

He lists strengths such as Malaysia not being as expensive to start up in as some of its neighbouring countries. Also the ease of doing business in Malaysia is mentioned by the Ambassador. Here, Malaysia ranks among the highest in the world.

“There are different organisations here that will help you if you want to invest or start up a business in Malaysia – especially Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA) and Invest KL,” Hans Ola Urstad says.

The annual social event
But of course, no business without pleasure. And surely, you can see the pleasure in Hans Ola Urstad’s eyes when he starts talking about Norway’s biggest social event in the capital of Malaysia; the Norwegian Seafood Gala Dinner. This annual dinner is always a huge success amongst Norwegians in Malaysia as well as Malaysians invited. This year, being the 20th year in a row, was no exception; 665 participants from close to 30 different companies – with more than 70 dishes, 24 different desserts, and entertainment by Norwegian Harding Fiddle.

“We are very proud of this amazing event; it markets Norwegian seafood in a fantastic way,” the Ambassador says.

Growth in export
And exactly fish exports have, according to Hans Ola Urstad, become an incredibly important factor in the Norwegian economy in general. Norwegian seafood has become very popular in Malaysia, particularly their salmon and sea trout.

“Norway’s export is very large in both salmon and sea trout, and we export a lot to this entire region – and our seafood export to Malaysia is actually rising,” the Ambassador says, explaining that especially the Norwegian sea trout it getting very popular in Malaysia, which is the reason behind the growth at the moment.

“It is actually marketed as salmon here, as they do not know the difference – and, to be honest, the difference between the two isn’t huge.”

According to Hans Ola Urstad, Norway’s general export to Malaysia is twice as big as their import. But, as he explains, the Norwegian-Malaysian trade is still not very large.

“The service sector here is much more important to Norway – and especially through Norwegian Telenor who has invested in the local telecom provider in Malaysia, Digi, and by owning 49 percent, that makes them the major owner,” he says.

 

Think outside Kuala Lumpur
Most of the Norwegian companies in Malaysia can be found in and around Kuala Lumpur, which Hans Ola Urstad believes to be because of people’s lack of awareness towards other parts of the country – mainly because they see it as too far away from Kuala Lumpur where everything is centred. But the Norwegian Ambassador wants to encourage Norwegian businesses to try to look outside the Malaysian capital when it comes to expanding their business and investing in Malaysia. For example, he sees Penang in the northwest of Malaysia as a business destination worth looking into.

“I think of Penang as a very good business destination – I see it as very open to trade;  it’s a region in Malaysia that exports more than any other on a comparative basis. It has a very broad and outward-reaching type of industry,” he says, concluding that Penang is where it is almost ideal to start up an industry or invest, due to its very open, international culture.

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