Ambassador of Denmark to YT: “The promotion of the Democracy and Human Rights project is our most important official program we intend to go about in Yemen” [Archives:2001/20/Interview]

May 14 2001

Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark to Yemen since October 1998, Mr. Sven Nordberg, made a combined business and official visit to Yemen accompanied by the Minister councilor Mr. Henrik Curtz two weeks ago. During the visit, he met with several prominent government officials and discussed various issues concerning the bilateral relationship and cooperation in different fields. Nadia Al-Saqqaf of the Yemen Times met with both Mr. Nordberg and Mr. Curtz and filed the following interview.
Q: What are the objectives of this visit? Do you have plans to establish a permanent Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark here in Sana’a?
A: The Kingdom of Denmark and the Republic of Yemen have always maintained good and friendly relations. It is true that this is my first business visit to Yemen as the ambassador of Denmark, but the political counselor of our embassy in Riyadh has been paying regular visits to Yemen. We also have an Honorary Consul in Yemen, Mr. Ahmed Hayel Saeed Anam, the General Manager of Hayel Saeed Anam Group of Companies. He takes care of the consular matters between Denmark and Yemen and deals with some commercial inquiries as well. Therefore, for the time being there is no plan to establish an independent embassy in Yemen. We have the Royal Danish Embassy in Riyadh to attend to the Danish interests all over the Arabian Peninsula.
As for the objectives out of this visit, we have come to collect information about the new government. We have taken due note of the fact that Yemen has nominated a female Minister for Human Rights, which has placed it among the forefront countries in the world in regards to this particular issue. We are also here to learn about the policy of the new government.
Another objective of this visit is to assist the commercial opportunities between Denmark and Yemen and to follow developments of the Democracy and Human Rights Program, which is the most important project of the Kingdom of Denmark in Yemen. This is to support NGOs and Human Rights organizations along with the rights of women in general and women in prisons in particular. The last but not least intention of the visit was to obtain an over all assessment of the security situation, so as to support the Danish tourism in Yemen.
Q: How successful was your visit in reaching its goals?
A: In our 5-day visit we have been to Sana’a, Taiz and Aden. Regarding the political situation I think I have got a very good and broad picture because we have been in touch with so many people. Regarding the human rights program we are running, I can only establish that the NGOs we are working with have been doing very serious and professional work. In terms of commercial prospects, we have concluded that it is time that more Danish companies come here and investigate the possible areas for trade and investment. In far as tourism is concerned, I believe that it is best for tourists groups from Denmark to be accompanied by a professional guide who knows Yemen’s conditions very well. They should also stay away from the remote areas where a number of incidents had occurred in the past. I hope from what I was told that we could safely conclude that tourism is safe in Yemen and recommend tourists to visit the country. However, I have to say that the final decision to recommend tourists to visit Yemen would take time, though we would try to take the decision very soon.
Q: In what aspects do you plan to expand your investment commercially?
A: Our role is to study the situation and recommend. However, it is very clear to us that Yemen has a lot of problems to deal with; there is unemployment and the investment situation and the infrastructure should be improved. But, I also think that business companies might find better potential and possibilities in the years to come. Our job is to draw the attention of the Danish companies to the possibility of investing in Yemen, but they are the ones who should eventually decide on whether they should invest in Yemen or not. But, we can pinpoint the specific sectors where Denmark is active in and tell the Danish companies that Yemen offers a good market.
The Aden Free Zone is another possibility for new business opportunities. As a whole I could establish with my own eyes that Aden needs new economic revival.
Q: What are the other interests of Denmark in Yemen?
A: The purpose of this visit is the assessment of the present situation; where is Yemen now. Ministers and businessmen have explained their views regarding the present political situation. We will report what we were told and what we have seen back to Denmark. As for cultural aspects, if you consider the tourism part of it, then we can say there might be some Danish interest in this particular field in future. But to be fair, the promotion of the democracy and human rights project is our most important official program that we intend to go about in Yemen.
Q: How do you assess the democratic experience Yemen has gone through especially that we have the first female minister of Human Rights?
A: Time and again, I have heard from the diplomats and businessmen that the new government represents ” new blood”. However, government business is an internal Yemeni affair and I shall not give any judgment. I realize that the new government has little time. It has to act fast within two years until next election. But you have new ministers in many key ministries, so I hope, like all the people I talked to, that this would lead to a better future for the country. We along with many other European countries will be following the developments closely. Yet, we say that no one can make Yemen a better country other than the Yemenis themselves. I would like to mention that apparently large sums of Yemeni capital are invested abroad. If the capital comes back and is invested in the homeland, it may make a great impact on the investment picture of the country.
Yemen is a country with great potential and so much could indeed be done.
Q: What kind of aid is the Kingdom of Denmark providing to Yemen?
A: Like I mentioned before, the democracy and human rights project is our main concern in the Republic of Yemen. It started 5 years ago, and the amount of money earmarked for this project is only USD 100,000 per year. We give it as a form of aid to people working in those particular sectors that promote human rights and democracy. In other words, we try to select NGOs working on human rights and women’s issues to support. We have also tried to provide aid to women in prisons so that they get legal advice. We have sponsored seminars and the Yemen Times also participated in seminars abroad. We will continue to support such projects in the future.
This is the aid we provide to the non-governmental sector. As for the governmental sector, we have provided Yemen’s parliament with hardware and software and have given them language training. Currently, we are preparing for an official visit of a delegation from the Danish parliament to Yemen so as to meet the Yemeni parliament and see how it works. Our program includes steps to enable people from the Yemeni parliament to visit Denmark and see how the Danish parliament works. Hence, this will probably provide an opportunity for the two houses of parliament to study the possibilities of assisting and learning from each other. This project has been adjourned a couple of times. It might take place this year.
Q: Any final comments you would like to add?
A: I should say that on the personal basis, this visit to Yemen has been a distinguished experience. Yemeni people are very kind and very hospitable. It’s a beautiful country and I am looking forward to coming to Yemen again.
Mr. Henrik Curtz is the Minister Counselor of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark in Riyadh dealing with agriculture. He has been working with the Danish Embassy in Riyadh for the past 5 years, before which, he had been to Rome, Brussels and to Athens, and at the end of this summer he would probably be appointed in the Danish Embassy in Moscow. Nadia Al-Saqqaf met with Mr. Curtz and filed the following interview.
Q: Is there a particular message you would like to bring forward in this interview?
A: Yes, actually the main problem we are facing in the field of agriculture is the ban on Danish and European meat products by GCC countries, and now Yemen. Danish products have been hit severely by this ban. Such bans are not quite new as EU countries had suffered problems affecting food trade, such as the Mad Cow disease in the UK and the dioxin problems in Belgium, when poisonous material of this harmful substance was found in some food products. However, the problem now is that many countries are taking the whole of Europe regarding food safety, which is not fair. Denmark was affected in the past, specifically in the last year for a few months following the discovery of a single case of the Mad Cow disease in February 2000. The ban was also on dairy products. I can openly say that this was not a correct decision, due to the fact that this disease is not transmitted through milk products, and fortunately it was abolished after a very short time.
Nevertheless It was a typical commercial shock; because the volume of our diary products exported to the region is quite huge. Still, the ban on meat products remains until today. We have tried throughout the years to give ourselves a clean profile recognized everywhere as a country producing safe and high quality food products. We worked hard in this regard to maintain this respectful reputation. We held a number of seminars last year and this year as well in the several GCC countries. All these seminars were conducted by our Embassy and by Danish experts who came to clear the picture regarding Danish products in the GCC countries. Many businessmen and investors in the public services in the region attended those seminars and asked many questions. It was an interactive experience where information on subjects of interest was exchanged. The exporters themselves financed these seminars. We are keen to continue this kind of work in other countries including Yemen; it all depends on the funds available and the local interest that we sense.
One very important point here is that through such activities we get closer to the local administrations. When there is a problem we know whom to contact and vice versa. We would like to have the right people approach us and have ourselves involved in problems related to food safety issues in the region. We are eager to provide information about food safety because there is a lot of experience we could share in this regard.
Q: What are your impressions about Yemen, specifically in the field of agriculture?
A: In my field of work, which is food and agriculture, my concern is the potential of viewing Yemen as a consumer country. What are the demands of the consumer here? Are they getting broader? Do people have more money than before? We look at the infrastructure of trade. Is there a possibility for a certain product to be distributed to a wide range of consumers? If not, why? These are among the questions, which we will try to find answers for. What we can see is that the average income has not gone up. In fact, it has been declining. This is a problem to be understood by Danish exporters, who are the ones interested in markets. This does not exclude that we are doing very well in terms of milk products, in particular milk powder, Lurpak butter and cheese and fertilizes, which constitute of around 95% of all our food exports to Yemen. This totals to about USD 14-15 million. There is no doubt that this figure would increase because of the increase of the population in Yemen. We can see that because there is an excellent infrastructure for trade, local companies were able to market the products to very remote areas in the country. During this second visit of mine to Yemen I have got a better impression about the companies dealing with Danish products. The Yemeni companies are extremely capable; I think the Danish companies have found the right partners. I am happy to see how the products have been marketed, and this shows that there could be no limits to the corporation that could take place. There is a lot of potential for future cooperation between Yemen and Denmark, particularly in the food sector.