Maine officials are preparing for a first-ever trip to Greenland this month.
The exploratory visit to the world’s largest island will take place immediately after a previously announced trade mission to Iceland, where trade is growing because of a new shipping service to Portland.
Greenland, which imports virtually everything its people need, could be a new market for Maine foods and basic commodities, said Janine Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center, a sponsor of the trip.
Also, she said, Greenland is pursuing mining and gas exploration, which creates opportunity for Maine companies with expertise in developing those industries.
Chris Howard, a partner in the Pierce Atwood law firm who will go on the Greenland trip, said the country is poised for development because it’s rich in natural resources such as zinc, lead, oil and gas, and is in the process of gaining its independence from Denmark. Moreover, global warming is melting the ice sheet that covers much of the island. Also the polar ice cap is shrinking, which is opening up shipping lanes in the arctic.
Maine companies like Cianbro, which can manufacture modular structures in Maine and send them to Greenland on barges, can help Greenland build its infrastructure, Howard said. The Pittsfield-based company made electrical building modules for a nickel processing plant in Newfoundland in 2012, and completed 52 refinery modules for a Texas oil company in 2010.
“For Maine, this is really an opportunity in the short term to provide the supplies and services for a lot of the future development that will happen in Greenland,” Howard said. “Positioning Maine between those resources and the rest of the world has got to be a positive long-term position for the state to be in.”
Howard said Maine can now ship products to Greenland on the Eimskip line, which ships containers between Portland and Iceland, and between Iceland and Greenland. The service began in March 2013.
Accompanying Howard to Greenland will be Dana Eidsness, director of the new Maine North Atlantic Development Office; John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority; and Larus Isfeld, general manager of Eimskip USA.
The group is scheduled to meet with top officials, including Greenland’s prime minster, Aleqa Hammond. It also will meet with representatives of businesses such as London Mining, a British mineral company that is trying to attract Chinese investors to build a $2.4 billion iron ore mine.
Greenland, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, is more than three times the size of Texas but has fewer residents than Portland. Most of the residents are Inuit.
The Maine group will visit Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on June 16 and June 17, after the much larger, six-day trade mission to Reykjavik, Iceland, and London. The trade mission is being coordinated by the Maine International Trade Center.
That trip will begin on Sunday, when a contingent representing 16 Maine businesses and educational institutions leaves Boston for Reykjavik. Gov. Paul LePage, who will join the delegation on Monday, will meet with Iceland’s President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson. LePage will return to Maine on Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening, the delegation will welcome the Maine Maritime Academy’s training vessel, the State of Maine, when it calls on Reykjavik.
Trade between Maine and Iceland is growing, Cary said. The volume of Maine exports in the first four months of 2014 was more than in all of 2013, she said.
Amber Lambke, who owns Maine Grains of Skowhegan, will be on the trip to Iceland, along with two barley farmers from Aroostook County, Tate and Torrey McPherson.
Also on the trip will be representatives from Bar Harbor Foods, a specialty seafood company in Whiting, food processors, paper manufacturers, life science and logistics companies.
In Iceland, Lambke will meet with food wholesalers and visit bakeries. “There (are) real opportunities for us,” she said.