Merethe Nergaard describes her way into the position as ambassador in Mexico as quite a journey.
Her first posting was Costa Rica, at a time when Norway had an embassy there covering the whole of Central America. “It was an interesting time with the Central American Peace Process, President Oscar Arias receiving the Nobel Peace prize and a huge Norwegian development Program with Nicaragua and Central America. I was so excited with this posting. I always wanted to come back to the region because I was fascinated with the warmth and hospitality of Latin American people. With my appointment as Ambassador to Mexico, the circle is closed,” Nergaard says.
-How does a typical day at the office look like?
“Normally I start out the day in the office, reading reports and instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, catching up with local news and meeting and dividing tasks among the colleagues at the Embassy. I have a very good and efficient staff at the Embassy of 11 people. Three are diplomats, while the others are locally employed. In the afternoon I often leave the embassy for different kinds of events for networking or for meetings with Mexican authorities to gather information, or to seminars to talk to people about Norway and Norwegian policies,” she says. Describing her many tasks, she adds that “my job is to report back to Oslo about Mexican policies and opportunities in Mexico for Norwegian business, and to promote Norwegian policies, business and culture. Providing good consular assistance to Norwegians in Mexico is of course also of prime importance for the Embassy.”
Setting the Agenda
Nergaard, who has extensive experience in diplomacy, sees her current job as more independent than when she worked in Paris and Washington D.C. “It is somehow different because in Washington and Paris we spent a lot of time preparing for visits of Norwegian politicians and delegations and we were replying constantly to instructions from Oslo on a range of issues of interest to the government. In Mexico we are creating the agenda and trying to develop opportunities for cooperation with Mexico,” she says.
The Mexican Moment
Nergaard enjoys living in Mexico, and describes Mexicans as friendly. “This country is so diverse, rich in cultural and natural attractions. It is interesting to be here right now, at the so-called “Mexican moment”, when there are so many opportunities for change and growth. One of the greatest challenges for this country is the inequality between people. Hopefully new economic growth could be better distributed to the Mexican people as a whole, and hopefully there will also be a change of mentality when it comes to corruption.”
Small Norwegian Community
Only 200 Norwegians are registered at the Embassy. Many of these were Norwegian sailors who got married in Mexico. But, Nergaard says; “with the promising reforms we expect that more Norwegian companies will get established in Mexico and that we will see more Norwegians here. There are also some Norwegian exchange students every year studying in Playa del Carmen and in Monterrey, as well as a number of charter tourists coming to Cancun.”
Norway and Mexico
Norway first established diplomatic relations with Mexico back in 1906, and has maintained an embassy in Mexico City since 1910. Nergaard explains the changing relationship between the two countries; “Our initial relations were characterized by friendship and respect, but tended to be a little distant. Our main interaction was limited to Norwegian vessels calling in at the port of Veracruz and to trade in cod. In recent years, we have strengthened the relationship. Now we collaborate closely on a whole range of issues. We share views on climate and humanitarian affairs, and we have been coordinating our positions within the UN on matters such as disarmament and human rights.” Oil is another major common theme. “Given that we are both major petroleum producing countries, it makes sense to cooperate on energy. My predecessors have been active in promoting exchanges in practice and expertise in the oil and gas sector and this is something I am keen on consolidating and developing further,” she adds.
Meanwhile the Mexicans are recognizing the benefits of having a presence in Oslo. Last spring the Mexican embassy in Norway was reopened. “There has been a lot of interest from the Mexican side in learning from the Norwegian experience in developing an oil and gas sector that benefits the whole nation. We are pleased to see that many of our innovations and ideas have inspired Mexico. We hope that the present energy reforms will produce positive results. Of late, there has been a lot of bilateral exchange of officials, decision makers and experts in the energy sector,”says Nergaard.
Working in Mexico presents its challenges, explains Nergaard; “It is very different from Norway as we are living in the mega polis of Mexico City with more than 22 million inhabitants and a lot of traffic,” she says, adding that security remains a concern. “The Embassy is located behind tall walls and is strictly guarded. Organized crime related to drug trafficking is the main security challenge, but there are huge regional differences. The influence of criminal organizations is concentrated in states like Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and the State of Mexico. This does not mean that you cannot work or travel in Mexico, but you always have to take precautions, think about where you go and your personal security.”
-What areas do you want to focus on in the future?
“Mexico is passing through an interesting time of reforms. After 75 years of monopoly in the oil and gas sector, the Mexican government has decided to open up for foreign investment. This means new opportunities for further cooperation between Norway and Mexico, particularly in the energy sector. One of the priorities at the embassy is promoting Norwegian economic interests in this promising market. Another priority, reflecting the Norwegian governments concern for the respect of human rights globally, is to follow closely the human rights situation in Mexico. There are several challenges, like freedom of speech, the situation for journalists, human rights defenders, the rule of law, and the situation for migrants and indigenous groups. With small but targeted funding we try to make a difference by supporting human rights civil society groups. This is a useful supplement to promoting Norwegian economic interests in Mexico. It also provides us with a better idea about is really happening on the ground,” the ambassador concludes.
BIO Merethe Nergaard
- Born in Trondheim in 1956
- Straight after graduation from the University in Oslo in 1984 she was selected to the Diplomatic corps
- After her posting in Costa Rica she was posted to the Norwegian UN delegation in Geneva
- She then joined the Permanent Norwegian Mission at the OECD, and worked for two years in the OECD Environment Directorate in Paris
- In 1995 she returned to Oslo and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Department
- In 1998 she was posted to the Norwegian embassy in France and after that to the US, Washington D.C., working on economic affairs
- She then returned to Oslo and the MFA , first as special advisor on trade promotion with developing countries, and finally as Deputy Director General for European Affairs
- Nergaard has been Ambassador of Norway in Mexico since August 2013