Protests rise over meat and cheese

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg claimed that angry opponents of his government’s move to boost income for Norwegian farmers, by dramatically raising import tariffs, would calm down once they read the portion of the state budget where the increases are outlined. Not so: Denmark’s trade minister, for example, is even more angry than before and still accuses Norway of violating international agreements.

Prices for Norwegian beef and cheese from cattle like these in Hakadal can rise because of the government’s proposed hike in import tariffs, according to the government’s own budget documents. That hasn’t calmed critics, who are even angrier over the government’s attempts to protect Norwegian farmers. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported earlier this week how Stoltenberg blamed the protests over the higher import tariffs on misleading and incorrect media reports. He suggested that the critical EU authorities, government ministers in several countries that are major trading partners, frustrated meat and cheese importers and angry consumers all based their protests “on media reports that imports (of meat and cheese) would be blocked and prices would rise considerably. That’s wrong. We’re increasing duty-free quotas, exempting all soft cheeses from the new method of calculating customs duty and we’re making exceptions for several other hard cheeses.”

Stoltenberg seemed confident that opponents would drop their protests after reading details of how the new customs duty system would work. Instead, reported DN on Wednesday, the Danes are far from placated.

“I’m disappointed that the Norwegian government will raise duty on certain cheeses by up to 277 percent,” Pia Olsen Dyhr, Denmark’s minister for trade and investment, told DN after she’d read the government’s budget proposal to Parliament that outlines the higher tariffs. “The customs duty on certain meat products will also rise strongly.

“This goes against Norway’s obligation in relation to the EU to liberalize trade in agricultural products and it therefore unacceptable,” Dyhr added. “It also goes against international decisions to avoid protectionism in the current economic situation.”

It was the demonstrations by farmers like this one last spring that apparently scared the Center Party into demanding that its fellow government partners appease the Center Party’s single most important group of constituents. That led to the proposed hike in import tariffs to protect Norwegian agricultural products, which in turn will eliminate foreign competition and ultimately allow the farmers to raise their own prices. PHOTO: Bondelaget

She’s not the only one still angry and threatening retaliation against Norway if the higher import tariffs are ultimately approved, which they likely will be since Stoltenberg’s government parties have a majority in Parliament. The EU’s ambassador to Norway has delivered a protest from European authorities and demanded consultations with regard to Norway’s obligations through its trade agreements with the EU. Norwegian retailers, consumer advocates and, not least, importers of meat and cheese also remain furious.

“Why should the government choose which cheeses we can eat?” questions restaurant owner Jan Vardøen, who faces huge price increases in the cheeses he now serves. He told newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday that he’s angry over what he suspects was “back-room dealing” between Stoltenberg’s Labour Party and its small coalition partner the Center Party, which has farmers as its most important constituency.

DN reported the day before on how budget quarreling between the two parties, over the Center Party’s insistence on higher tolls to protect Norwegian farmers, was so heated that it lasted late into the night and Stoltenberg himself had to take part. The meat and cheese tariffs, according to DN, were the single most difficult issue in the entire budget process.

Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete and her party’s agriculture minister, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, pushed through the higher tariffs to placate their farming voters. They deny prices will necessarily rise, but budget documents plainly state that they can, and that’s made opponents of the higher tariffs even angrier. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Labour, which has become more “market liberal” in recent years and less authoritarian, nonetheless caved in to the Center Party’s demands after long hours of arguing over cheese and Stoltenberg himself was reportedly among those plucking out which 14 cheeses would be exempted from the higher tariffs, like parmesan, brie and manchego. DN commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim even headlined a column on the budget disagreement Statsbudcheddar, a pun on how the Norwegian word for the plural form of “the state budget” is pronounced. Foreign cheddar is among the cheeses that may now disappear from Norwegian markets since its price would triple under the government’s new rules.

Prices for various cuts of imported beef may triple as well, setting off renewed protests from importers and retailers like REMA 1000, which has been selling lots of beef from Uruguay, not least because Norwegian farmers don’t produce enough beef in Norway to meet demand. Government officials claim they’ve set duty-free quotas for 500 tons of beef from developing countries like Uruguay, but retailers argue they’re already importing that much so prices still stand to rise if there’s to be any market growth.

In the end, Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete and her agriculture minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum won, as did their farming constituents, and all those fighting even higher prices and poorer selection in Norway lost along with Stoltenberg. He and his party colleagues, including not least new Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, now must put on brave faces and defend their own government’s decision.

Vedum of the Center Party has no regrets for pushing for higher tariffs, nor does he have much sympathy for Norwegian consumers. He continues to argue that Norwegian farmers need higher income to maintain food production, that Norwegians spend a lower percentage of their monthly incomes on food than many do in other countries, and that he feels no obligation to liberalize trade or open up Norway to more foreign goods because of what Dyhr referred to as “the current economic situation in Europe.”

“The Norwegian farmer is not the reason for the crisis in Europe,” Vedum told Aftenposten recently. “There’s a price for having Norwegian agriculture because of how the land is (with steep mountains, little arable land and a cold climate). We believe it is right to have Norwegian food production and this (the higher tariffs) secures the future for it.”

Asked whether he can understand that consumers are provoked, he responded: “No, I don’t. No. The answer is no.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • http://profiles.google.com/kiwi.robbie Robert Cumming

    I didn’t even know Tine made cheddar, I’ve only ever bought the English one, I guess I can say goodbye to that now!

  • CarlJohannsen

    … and a prime minister has nothing better to do than deciding which cheese I shall be able to afford?

    … and what makes the farmers and their lobbyists, the Center Party, believe they have a right to live off my work in the first place?

    Let’s face it: land and climate make farming in Norway largely uneconomical by today’s productivity levels, and claiming self-sustainability for the sake of an argument is nothing but a romantic idea with nationalistic overtones. Come on: Europe’s economies get ever more interconnected, and Norway earns handsomely from exporting to Europe. The subsidies, the excessive prices, the customs barriers, however, are nothing but a destruction of national wealth and income.

  • Lexikologist

    the sage, you were misinformed: the EU does not oblige countries to import GMO products. Where did you get this rubbish from? The EU has in fact stood up to GMO more than any other trade bloc and many EU countries won’t allow GMO crops or products within their borders. So, aside from garbage anti-EU propaganda, where could you have got your “information” from?

    • the sage

      Hello Lexikologist.

      I would first like to address the manner in which you have addressed me.
      If we were sitting face to face over a cup of tea having this discussion and you responded to me in this manner you wouldn’t deserve or get an answer to your question, regardless of whether the answers I were to provide you in response were to later be proven right or wrong.

      If I were to read and interpret your post in a context of respect and politeness then it would translate that you simply disagree, that I am mistaken, or am using a mistaken source and are simply asking for elaboration to determine the accuracy of that which I state.

      But to use labels like “rubbish”, “garbage”, “anti-EU propaganda” and the word “information” in quotes as to insinuate it is something other than information PRIOR to even getting my response to your request as to where I got my information from is impolite, disrespectful and dishonoring to yourself. It is for that reason that I would not typically respond to your inquiry.

      But because I am so very much against GMO (and am anti-EU as “the project” is currently expressed and how its future is expressed by those that created and now run it) then I would like to provide that information. I would also like to add that it is always my intent to operate ethically in regards to “good faith” and never, for the sake of my own agenda, purposefully present something that is false or knowingly use a false source or information to push that opinion or agenda. At best, under such circumstances of expressing doubt or debate concerning what I profess, that I would simply be found to be…mistaken.

      Also, out of respect to this website, I am not sure if this comments section was created for and supports extremely lengthy exchanges and debates. I realize it uses Disqus, which I am not so familiar with, as the service with which to post comments. So should that be a problem with this website and its moderator then I would request that they state it as such and use alternate means.

      • Lexikologist

        Dear Sage, sorry if I offended you. However, I would very much appreciate if you could actually provide a source or some evidence for your claim that “Norway now had to allow GMO, genetically modified organisms, imports of certain fruits and vegetables due to its EU agreements”.

        The rules on GMO and the EU are as follows:
        “A number of Member States have invoked a so-called ‘safeguard clause’ (Art. 23 Dir. 2001/18/EC). According to this clause, Member States may provisionally restrict or prohibit the use and/or sale of the GM product on its territory. However, the Member State must have justifiable reasons to consider that the GMO in question poses a risk to human health or the environment.
        Six Member States currently apply safeguard clauses on GMO events: Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Luxembourg.”

        http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/gmo_ban_cultivation_en.htm

        The EU used to have a blanket ban on GMO but many countries actually wanted to consume or grow GMO products so this compromise was found.

        Perhaps the 0.9% GMO content is a result of Norway not being in the EU as if it were in the EU it could invoke that clause. Moreover, are you referring only to imports from the EU or imports from all over the world? does Norway have different rules for EU imports and rest of world imports? If, first of all, the claim about imports of 0.9% GMO content is true.

        From what I am aware, Norway uses GMO feed in fish farming. Considering salmon is one of your biggest exports, perhaps we in the EU should start slapping tariffs on your salmon as well as your cheeses. And, maybe you should also consider how Norway’s farms would be collapsing if it weren’t for the agreements the country has with the EU.

        • the sage

          Thanks for the apology.
          I am truly learning as I go along and don’t have all the answers.
          But the more I do learn, the more disgusted I become.

          Some of the allowable GMO in the EU and Norway has no limit in regard to its use in animal feed.

          The claim about the .9% being allowed in food is true regarding the EU and regarding Norway.

          Here is a link to the EU register of allowable GMO potato where one can see the .9% is in effect as a food ingredient in the EU.
          http://ec.europa.eu/food/dyna/gm_register/index_en.cfm

          The same rule applies to Norway and GMO where .9% is now allowed and was done so in response to trade agreements with the EU.

          The problem is that the .9% applies to only one thing or ingredient in a product. So if you have a product with say, fifteen total ingredients and five or six of those is GMO (.9% for each ingredient) you could now be consuming a product that could be as high as 5% GMO.

          Norway adopted this because the EU had already done so and it was done in regards to trade and their agreements.

          But I will provide more elaboration on this soon when time permits.

          But it is accurate to say that both the EU and Norway now allow GMO in their food supply and feed supply.
          And I do believe that Norway has adopted GMO in their food and feed supply because of EU agreements, not just by their own choice and decision to do so. If it is specific proof of that you are asking of me then I will do my best to provide it to you.

          Here is a good article concerning Norway internally and GMO…
          http://www.monsanto.no/index.php/en/environment/gmo/gmo-news/74-the-norwegian-gmo-scandal

          Another article…
          http://www.combat-monsanto.co.uk/spip.php?article504

      • http://www.newsinenglish.no The Moderator

        Sage, thank you for thinking about this website and its moderator. Up to now we’ve had no problem accommodating lengthy exchanges. But we haven’t really looked for Disqus’ limitations, if there are any.
        If problems occur, I’ll let you know.

  • GBCD

    bravo. I say that real food should not be taxed (in the US it isn’t). I agree with some sort of tax for junk food in a very qualified manner. The fact is that a McDonald’s cheeseburger is 10 kroner which is cheaper and more calorie rich than 3 Norwegian made apples. However its very likely that if you support a sin tax for junk it is more likely that they’ll raise the price on the burger without lowering the price on the apples. So you are likely to wind up with even prohibitively expensive food. A rise is the overall price level without a concomitant rise in wages for anyone but “the farmers” e.g. Tine/the grocery store cartel.

    Two. I totally miss Monterey Jack.

    Three. even if Norway wanted to have an import ban/self sufficiency strategy,
    there aren’t enough people. Its not like a workforce of 3 million (not counting the children and retirees ) would be able to produce all the stuff they needed. Thus the only result of this bizarre strategy is to reduce the real wealth as measured by purchasing power of the Norwegian consumer.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SW6NRBNIJISW4EYAVT7FVNPIJQ Rahim

    It may seem extreme, but this is exactly the kind of thing that made me leave Norway. I’m sure most of you are thinking thank god, we got rid of another ungrateful foreigner but frankly I would have thought I was exactly the kind of highly skilled person they were crying out for and I had zero problems at all finding better paid work back in the UK.

    It may seem trivial to Norwegians, but foreigners simply cannot deal with the lack of good affordable produce and don’t want to be forced into supporting monopolistic shopping practices. I made a point of not buying Tine just to try and do my bit for fostering some competition. I’d tear my hair out every time I was told to just accept eating dull food. Perhaps this is only a state of mind you can achieve if you grow up in Norway?

    Yes, I know there are seemingly good reasons to support the countryside & farmers but then lets just pay for it through tax allow imports like anywhere else. It’s a democracy after all, and if the government think that people want this then let those go ahead and pay those instance prices for bland cheese and fake Parma ham.

    History shows us that this path of subsidy is unsustainable and the medium term wealth is only that. Expectations of unions across Norway will rise ever upwards and the flow of oil and wealth will dwindle away. Ultimately there will be a reckoning and I for one have no faith in the long term prosperity of Norway (the second reason I left).

    Since moving back some 3 months ago after 4 years I was stunned at the difference in prices and selection of food in the UK. From spending 2-3000 Kr per week my food bill is down by at least 50% and now consists of luxury meats, cheeses and fresh fruit and veg of an organic nature. If I tried the same in Norway I’d be spending closer to 5000 Kr per week. Frankly I wouldn’t be able to walk home if I purchased 1000Kr of groceries in my local Waitrose!

    I’m not saying there isn’t good food in Norway. Frankly I think some of the cuisine is excellent; but eating like that on a daily basis is not possible with the rest of us reduced to suspect sausages and fish cakes packed with mechanically extracted garbage accompanied by several kilo’s of potatoes as filler to keep going.

    I hear that things have changed in Norway, but the way I see it the rate of change itself is accelerating in the rest of the world so relatively speaking Norway is falling behind. It’s not about what you have, but what you could have if you were elsewhere.

    The tragedy is that for a country that is so progressive in so many ways with some amazing people that they simply cannot let go of the past. With so much wealth and opportunity, they could really do something special but instead pander to marginal interests.

    For now at least, I think I am better off in the socially and economically bankrupt UK.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kiwi.robbie Robert Cumming

    This Christmas will be interesting if the higher tariffs go through, from what I have been told at least 50% of the pork used for ribbe comes from overseas and about 30% of the lamb used for pinekjott is also foreign, that’s going to be nasty surprise to many when they struggle to to afford a traditional Christmas meal.