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Iceland appoints first ambassador to Malta

Sverrir Haukur Gunnlaugsson

Sverrir Haukur Gunnlaugsson

Iceland has appointed its first ambassador to Malta, upgrading its diplomatic status to an embassy. The first ambassador is Sverrir Haukur Gunnlaugsson, who was in Malta on his inaugural visit earlier this month on an intensive, week-long schedule of meetings and official engagements.

Mr Gunnlaugsson presented his credentials to the President, Professor Guido de Marco, on December 11, followed by lunch at San Anton Palace.

Malta's imminent accession to the European Union as a member state was cited as the main reason. Though not a candidate nor an EU member state, Iceland, through the European Economic Area agreement with the EU, applies about 80 per cent of the EU's acquis communautaire and already complies with EU norms and standards in most sectors.

Furthermore, Iceland is a member of the Schengen Convention, which in practice means that the country processes hundreds of thousands of visitors into Europe, which arrive mainly from America.

Among other engagements, Ambassador Gunnlaugsson met Foreign Minister Joe Borg to discuss bilateral issues. He informed Dr Borg that Iceland was seeking support to become a member of the Security Council in 2009-10.

He held separate meetings with Carmel Inguanez, director of Protocol, Consular and Information Matters; Charles Galea, head of Economic and Cultural Affairs; Anthony E. Borg, director, Multilateral Affairs; and Dr Mario Costa, director, Bilateral Relations, all at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During the visit Iceland's and Malta's co-operation and role in the Council of Europe were stressed.

Mr Gunnlaugsson also met Professor David Attard, director of the International Maritime Law Institute, on key issues on the Law of the Sea, which Iceland has been actively promoting for the past 50 years. The ambassador is chairman of the Law of the Sea Institute in Iceland.

Mr Gunnlaugsson had an informal meeting with the press at Le Meridien Phoenicia Hotel during which he gave an overview of Iceland's socio-political, economic and industrial position. He stressed the need to continue to work closely with Malta on creating new investment opportunities and strengthening bilateral relations at various levels.

He spoke about Iceland's natural resources, fisheries and aviation industries, tourism and the environment. He highlighted his government's commitment to research and development of new technologies, such as alternative fuels, like hydrogen, for a better future.

A joint trade mission from the two island countries recently returned from a visit to Iran and Qatar. The fact-finding tour was a Maltese initiative, in which Iceland was invited to participate, with the objective of increasing trade with that region. Iceland and Malta are looking for ways to continue such practical co-operation and exchange of information.

Iceland has been exploring emerging niche markets to invest in for a number of years now. Some years ago Malta was chosen by a major Icelandic pharmaceutical manufacturer, Delta hf, which bought Pharmamed Limited, in Bulebel, and has since been investing very substantially in the plants upgrading and restructuring to gear for the production of quality generic drugs aimed at the EU market.

Ambassador Gunnlaugsson spent some time visiting the plant and expressed considerable interest in the company's growth and ambitious plans for the future. Today both Pharmamed and Delta form part of the Icelandic Pharmaco Group, a major international pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Pharmamed currently employs a highly skilled workforce of around 250 personnel from highly skilled plant operators to specialised technical and scientific grades, all of whom are Maltese, with one or two exceptions.

Another Icelandic venture that recently opened for business in Malta is Landstraust, operating as Creditinfo Malta. Mr Gunnlaugsson paid a visit to the company. The company offers credit information services to bona fide enquirers.

He also visited the Malta Chamber of Commerce and spoke with Louis Apap Bologna, senior vice-president, and Anthony Borg Cardona, director general, and discussed ways of enhancing co-operation with Icelandic chambers of commerce.

Before his departure, the ambassador also paid a courtesy call on the Papal Nunzio, Mgr del Blanco Prieto.

During his visit Mr Gunnlaugsson was hosted by Chev. Maurice Mizzi, Consul for Iceland. Chev. Mizzi will play an increasingly important role on behalf of the embassy since the ambassador is based in London and will visit Malta periodically.

A lawyer by profession, Mr Gunnlaugsson, 61, was born in Copenhagen. He has worked in various posts in the foreign ministry of Iceland since 1970, including postings to Paris and Washington.

He was appointed ambassador in 1985 and has since been posted to Geneva, Brussels, Paris and London. He has served on a large number of committees and international organisations. He is married with three grown-up children.

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