The opening of a direct shipping line to the North Atlantic and growing world interest in Arctic affairs have prompted state government to lead its first trade mission to Scandinavia.

The Maine International Trade Center will guide a dozen companies, research groups and educational institutions on a 10-day trip to Norway, Sweden and Finland. The participants, who leave Tuesday, bring interests ranging from the possible export of Maine-made medical devices to Norway hospitals, to the import of advanced forest-industry machinery from Finland, to development of Arctic-viable marine technology with researchers in Trondheim, Norway, said MITC’s Dana Eidsness.

Maine has increased its export of goods to Scandinavia by 50 percent over the past five years, from $18.5 million in 2010 to $27.7 million in 2015, according to federal export statistics. Eidsness attributes the growth to the 2013 arrival in Portland of the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, which created the state’s first direct shipping line into the North Atlantic and opened up an entirely new market for even small Maine companies.

“That opened a door to a part of the world that wasn’t open in any kind of affordable way to Maine companies even five years ago,” she said.

Global warming has helped, too, by opening new Arctic shipping lanes and lengthening the shipping seasons for existing routes. That has opened economic doors for the businesses of Arctic-border nations, and some northern regions or states such as Maine, said Ben Ford, an attorney with Verrill Dana of Portland who will participate in the trade mission.

“When you look at a globe, the first port in the continental U.S. that ships traveling through the newly opened Arctic waters will come to is Maine,” Ford said. “In Maine, we are blessed with a couple of deep-water ports, some of which have a large capacity and others that could (add capacity) with only a small amount of improvements. We believe that Maine will be a critical player in the international development of the Arctic, and we want our state, and our clients, to be ready.”

For Verrill Dana, that could mean helping clients deal with the regulatory issues of crossing another country’s waters, negotiating intellectual property licenses, or providing dispute resolution between companies operating on the European side of the Arctic, Ford said. He will also pursue more traditional business opportunities for companies on both sides of the Atlantic that produce medical supplies and devices.

The trade mission is introducing several life sciences companies to a national purchasing group that serves all Norwegian hospitals, Eidsness said. The purchasing organization is part of an international group that includes the European Union health network. Participants will be briefed on how to sell into hospital networks in Norway and how to crack the EU market, and will tour Oslo area hospitals and the offices of clinicians and hospital purchasers.

This is Maine’s first state-led trade mission to Scandinavia, Eidsness said. In recent years, MITC, which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary, has organized trade missions to Brazil, Chile, China, Japan, Colombia, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The center is planning a trip to Toronto in August. And this fall, MITC will have the chance to put its passport on a shelf and instead host hundreds of visiting world leaders at the annual Arctic Council meetings.

The Arctic focus of the Scandinavian trade mission is what attracted University of Maine engineering professor Krish Thiagarajan. He is looking for new technology and research partners at the ocean space research center opening soon in Trondheim, with a focus on Arctic-viable marine technology. But he also will scout for new technology for his company, Marine Ocean Training & Technology, and on behalf of Maine Marine Composites of Portland.

“Norway is one of the countries in the forefront of a lot of advanced marine technology,” Thiagarajan said. “Their government has invested a lot in developing this specialized industry and we want to see if we can capitalize on that. The whole spectrum is wide open – renewable energy ideas like wave energy, tidal energy. Technology to help ships move faster and smoother through Arctic seas. We would like to invite their tech companies to develop their work in some of our lab facilities.”

Seven companies will travel to Norway, with opportunities for meetings in Oslo and Trondheim, which is one of the world’s foremost marine technology centers and future home of an ocean space research center that Eidsness called a “kind of Disneyland for marine research.” Eight companies will go to Sweden, with opportunities for meetings in Stockholm and Gothenburg. Participants will receive federal market research, corporate matchmaking and technical assistance on issues such as labeling requirements and regulatory hurdles.

Companies attending just the Norway portion of the trip will pay $2,400; it’s $3,700 to go to both Norway and Sweden, Eidsness said. A U.S. Small Business Administration grant will pay for Eidsness and a senior trade adviser’s travel. The state-funded MITC will pay the travel costs for MITC President Janine Bisaillon-Cary. No other government officials will be participating, Eidsness said.

A small group will continue on to Helsinki, Finland, for an early Fourth of July celebration at the U.S. Embassy.

About 2,000 people are scheduled to attend the national birthday party, which will also celebrate next year’s planned transition of the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the major intergovernmental body overseeing the policies of the region, from the United States to Finland, Eidsness said. Maine and Alaska have been invited to participate in the ceremony as states. Maine will be serving up its tourism opportunities and Maine lobster, she said.

But it will be frozen lobster, not live imports, which will avoid the awkward situation of serving something that Norway and Sweden are trying to outlaw. Norway has banned the import of live North American lobsters, saying they are an invasive species that is edging out its own smaller native lobster. Sweden is petitioning the European Union, of which it is a member, to follow Norway’s lead and institute a ban throughout the EU trade zone.

Maine and Massachusetts politicians are joining with their Canadian counterparts to lobby against the proposed ban, saying it looks more like protectionism than a real science concern. They say there have only been a handful of North American lobsters found in European waters, which they argue is far from an invasion, and that tighter storage controls on live imports would be a better solution than an all-out ban.

But the trade mission, which was planned months before Sweden proposed the ban, doesn’t plan to venture into those murky waters, Eidsness said. Only frozen lobster exports are on the agenda for discussion, she said.

The trade center organizes these trips to promote networking and business opportunities for Maine companies, she said. It leaves policymaking and persuasion to politicians, Eidsness said – except for the menu selection.

“Trade is a great form of diplomacy,” she said. “The more we interact with other countries, the more we communicate, the better we all get along.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH


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