Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign affairs, and Paul LePage, the Governor of Maine, last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding between their respective states.
This was announced on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website. The agreement forges an official relationship between the two states and outlines a desire for increased cooperation in the areas of business development, transport, logistics and culture. It also calls for further cooperation in the Arctic and North Atlantic, in regards to mutual interests, such as environmental security and search and rescue operations.
This move follows increased relations between the U.S. state and Iceland in recent years. Last year the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip moved its U.S. shipping hub from Norfolk, Virginia to Portland; Maine’s largest city and home to the Port of Portland, the largest port in New England in terms of total tonnage. Only a small percentage of that tonnage, however, can be attributed to cargo containers, and it is mostly due to the export of paper products and the import of crude oil. Eimskip’s presence marks a step towards increasing Portland’s share of the container market.
In May, Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, spoke at Maine International Trade Day, and said in regards to the potential opening up of polar shipping lanes, that “Iceland and Maine are strategically placed in this new global transportation system”. Later in his address, he called for Maine’s leadership to actively involve itself in the business of the Arctic Council when the U.S. takes over the chairman position in two years’ time.
Attempts have also been made to foster a cultural connection. SPACE Gallery, located in Portland, celebrated Icelandic culture this past March with a series of events under the name Iceland Cometh! This included a concert titled Reykjavík Calling, which featured Icelandic artists Retro Stefsson, Sin Fang and Hermigervill, as well as a screening of the Sigur Rós documentary Heima. The events were sponsored by Soli DG a Portland based port management and maritime consulting firm, Eimskip and Iceland Naturally, a government sponsored program tasked with promoting tourism and the value of Icelandic products in North American markets.
Governor LePage was accompanied by a delegation of representatives from the Maine International Trade Center, primarily affiliated with the paper and seafood industries.