MINISTER THÓRDARSON: First of all, Mr. Vice President, I’d like to welcome you again. We are very pleased to see you. And Ambassador Gunter and distinguished business leaders of U.S. and Icelandic companies, I want to — please accept our warm welcome to this groundbreaking U.S.-Icelandic Business Roundtable.
This is a historic event. We are highly privileged to have Vice President Mike Pence here today. Your presence, Mr. Vice President, highlights the strong bonds of partnership between the U.S. and Iceland, already voiced by Secretary Mike Pompeo early this year.
Our relationship has deep roots. We share fundamental values of respect, of freedom, human rights, democracy, free markets, and the rule of law. And we will never forget that it was the United States which first recognized Iceland as a sovereign country. We are also a founding member of NATO and have had a bilateral defense treaty for close to 70 years.
I’m also happy to report that business is booming. The U.S. is Iceland’s single-largest trading partner, accounting for 60 percent of Iceland’s total trade in goods and services. In fact, the U.S. has a healthy surplus in trade in goods in Iceland. We like American products. The U.S. is also the largest foreign direct investor in Iceland.
People-to-people relationships are also strong. We welcomed around 700,000 Americans to Iceland last year. Our commercial ties are, however, not defined by tourism or retail sales. Scientific cooperation is and has been a vital part.
Iceland might be a small partner, but it is an important one, providing, for example, 60 percent of imported codfish consumption in the U.S. And the U.S. is the largest single market for companies such as Marel, which makes food processing machines in poultry meat and seafood, making those industries more efficient and profitable in the U.S.
Another company, Össur, specializes in prosthetics, and is the largest provider of prosthetics to the U.S. Army. Small in big picture but large for soldiers and veterans.
Mr. Vice President and dear friends, I believe there’s a tremendous scope for strengthening our broad relationship through trade. It is no secret that I would like to explore the possibility of a free trade agreement with the United States. And I am determined to look closely and energetically at ways of maximizing trade between us.
Mr. Vice President, I hope with your support we can open a new chapter of U.S.-Icelandic economic partnership. I look very much forward to discussion ahead. Mr. Vice President, it is with great pleasure that I give you the floor. (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Thank you. Well, let me thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Thórdarson. Thank you for those words. Thank you for the warm welcome — my very first trip to Iceland, not just as Vice President, but in my 60 years. And it’s a joy to be here in this historic place.
I just finished a good meeting, as the Ambassador knows, with President Jóhannesson and the First Lady. I’m looking forward to meeting with the Prime Minister later today.
But to have the opportunity to meet with Icelandic business leaders and American business leaders that work here in Iceland is a great privilege because the economic relationship between our two countries is as dynamic as our security alliance has been throughout all of those 75 years.
And let me say, it — I want to extend early congratulations to Iceland on your 75th anniversary of independence. You beat me to the punch to point out that America was the first country in the world to recognize Iceland’s independence, and we’re proud of it.
Iceland was a founding member of NATO. Iceland’s forces have been with us every step of the way as NATO partners and allies, and we acknowledge your forces, and especially the daily work that Iceland’s Coast Guard does in conjunction with the United States Navy and our forces in the region to see to our interest in an increasingly important area of the world, not just economically, but strategically.
Mr. Foreign Minister, you know of the concerns we have about increased activity by the Russian Navy in the Arctic and the increased interest by China in not just economic investment, but also security participation in the region.
And let me assure you, as a NATO Ally, but also a treaty ally with Iceland, we’re going to continue to stand with you on behalf of our interest in this region and our shared values of freedom and commitment to individual liberty and the rule of law.
Beyond those weighty issues, let me congratulate Iceland on your economic success. Your economy is soaring. And I trust that’s due, in some part, to the fact that the economic outlook in the United States is growing as well.
Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, our economy is booming. More than 6 million jobs created in the last two and a half years. Wages are rising in the United States of America. Our unemployment rate is at a 50-year low. And I expect that some of the 700,000 Americans that came to Iceland as tourists in the last year is a reflection of a dynamic economy and the growth in disposable income that Americans have experienced under the President’s leadership.
But it’s equally true, under your government, Iceland has had one of the most dynamic periods of growth, since 2008’s recession, of any country in the world. And we congratulate you for that.
But today’s conversation is really about finding ways that we can continue to build on that economic relationships and that momentum in ways that will strengthen our economy and also strengthen opportunities for growth here in Iceland.
We do have more than a billion dollars in trade between us. And we really believe that the initiation, in June of this year, of the U.S.-Iceland is Economic Dialogue is a natural precursor to your ambition, Mr. Minister, and, I know, your government’s ambition of a free trade agreement somewhere down the road between the United States and Iceland.
But it was a productive inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Iceland Economic Dialogue. We thank you for that.
And today, I hope you will consider a continuation of a discussion of how we can identify ways, even before any additional agreement between our country. Or we might find ways to lower the barriers to commerce, to the opportunity to sell American goods into Iceland, and the ability for the people of Iceland to participate in the American economy. We think that’s good for both of our countries, and, frankly, we think it’s in the interest of the strength of this region of the world.
So, again, let me thank you, Mr. Minister, and all the distinguished business leaders from the United States and from Iceland who have taken time for this conversation. I look forward to listening and learning.
And let me say also how humbling it is to have the opportunity to meet you here in this historic place. It’s remarkable to think that a meeting that took place in 1986, in the room just next to us, that while it ended in a way that people did not anticipate, history records that it began the unraveling of decades of the Soviet Union and communist rule not just over their own people, but across satellite nations in Eastern Europe.
And your President and I were just in Warsaw a few days ago, celebrating a victory for freedom that, in so many ways, I want the people of Iceland to know, and the world knows, began in this very house here in Reykjavík, in Iceland.
And so we thank you for your role in that history. We thank you for your example and your devotion to freedom. And I look forward to finding ways that we can continue to grow the immutable ties between the people of the United States of America and the people of Iceland.
Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. It’s an honor to be with you. It really is. (Applause.)