Sandberg breaks ministerial boycott

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Per Sandberg of Norway’s conservative Progress Party has become the first Norwegian government minister to visit Russia in more than two years. He declared that it was about time Norway and Russia started cooperating again, and he had no problem attending a North Atlantic fisheries conference this week in St Petersburg.

Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg has been busy promoting Norwegian seafood abroad, like here in Milan last week. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeri departementet

Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg has been busy promoting Norwegian seafood abroad, like here in Milan last week. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeri departementet

“I want first and foremost to send a signal about how importantly I view the fabulous cooperation there’s been between Norway and Russia on fishing issues,” Sandberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after arriving in St Petersburg. His visit is controversial because he’s the first Norwegian to break a ministerial boycott imposed after Russia invaded Crimea and intervened in Ukraine, but the Norwegian government seemed to allow it.

“Fisheries ministers from seven other countries are also participating in this conference,” Ane Lunde of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry told newspaper Dagbladet. “They take turns hosting the conference and this year it was Russia’s turn.” She said ministers from Iceland, Greenland, the Færøy Islands and the EU’s fishing commissioner were also due to attend.

The outspoken Sandberg, who announced last week that he would not be running for re-election to Parliament, was appointed as Norway’s fisheries minister in December. He hails from Northern Norway, which has nurtured ties to Russia for centuries.

He told NRK he was simply interested in furthering cooperation at the conference, which is concentrating this year on research among countries bordering on the North Atlantic fishing grounds. Norwegian seafood exports were also on his mind.

“We know we’ve lost the Russian market for seafood because of the conflict that’s arisen in Europe,” Sandberg said. “Norway’s seafood industry has found new markets, but we will want to get back into this (Russian) market.”

There also has been ministerial contact between Russia and Finland lately. Sandberg wouldn’t say whether his visit will be followed up by other Norwegian ministers.

“I just want to get into a situation where we can operate together again,” Sandberg told NRK. “No one is well-served with the situation we’re in now.”

He was to meet with the Russian equivalent of a fisheries minister, the head of the Russian seafood directorate, on Thursday. Even though Russia is a major seafood producing nation, all fisheries management lies within the country’s agricultural ministry. Canadian officials are also attending the conference in St Petersburg.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund