Trade ministers gathered in Oslo

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It was being called an “informal” meeting on trade, but with foreign and trade ministers from 24 countries traveling to Oslo and taking part, also from China and Russia, the high-level gathering reflected a major effort to rally forces to “save” international trade and ward off protectionism.

From its perch on a hilltop above Oslo, the Voksenåsen Hotel and Conference Center can offer some inspirational views for trade ministers from around the world. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

From its perch on a hilltop above Oslo, the venue for this weekend’s gathering of trade ministers from around the world can at least offer some inspirational views. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende invited them all to the relatively secluded Voksenåsen hotel and conference center in the hills above Oslo for a two-day session heading into the weekend. The goal is to lay the groundwork to finally conclude the so-called Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s global trade talks that began in Doha just after the terrorist attacks on the US in the fall of 2001.

Fifteen year later, progress has been less than satisfactory. As newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported earlier this week, the ambitious plans laid in Doha to remove hindrances to free and fair trade had to be set aside because of disagreements. Now Brende is hoping that a “Doha light” version can be hammered out when the WTO meets in Buenos Aires next year. “I don’t see any other alternative,” Brende told DN.

‘An initiative to positive progress’
So Brende invited top politicians from around the world to start talking together, and in the presence of the WTO’s leader Roberto Azevedo. He was also invited to Oslo at a time when many of those attending are also dealing with everything from the consequences of Britain’s pending withdrawal from the EU to a new wave of protectionism stirred up by the controversial US presidential candidate Donald Trump. Britain, at the very least, faces having to draft new trade agreements with both the EU and many outside the EU like Norway. Brende was in London on Wednesday, on his way home from Japan, to meet with the new British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

Norway can be protectionistic as well, because of its long-time policies to support and shield its agricultural industry from foreign competition in the form of cheaper and often better products from abroad. At the same time, Norway needs to sell its oil, gas, seafood and other export products overseas, and expects foreign markets to be open and without hindrances. Conflicts arise when Norwegian officials try to have it both ways.

“International cooperation and multilateral trade agreements are important for growth and restructuring of the Norway and the world economy,” Brende stated when the meeting Friday and Saturday was announced. He claimed Norway promotes “an active and strong WTO,” and that the meeting in Oslo is “an initiative to contribute to positive progress in the WTO’s work.”

First Chinese ministerial guest in six years
It’s highly unclear whether the meeting will have any real effect but Brende reasons that dialog is always a good thing. He noted in a column published Thursday in DN how the US is struggling to win approval of a major trade deal among Pacific nations (the so-called TPP) while “many EU countries are skeptical” about a deal between the EU and Canada. Negotiations for the TTIP deal between the EU and the US, meanwhile, “is meeting strong opposition on both sides of the Atlantic,” Brende wrote, just as the “rhetoric” of the US election campaign us full of anti-globalization- and anti-trade talk. “When it can also be documented that the amount of trade hindrances among G20 countries is rising, there’s all reason to sound a warning,” he stated.

Various trade and foreign ministers from Australia, Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Lesotho, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the US and the EU have confirmed their attendance in Oslo. Norwegian officials appeared pleased, also given recent tensions with both Russia and China.

Norway has just recently come to terms with Russia, however, over charting of the Barents Sea on both sides of their offshore territorial border, to facilitate oil and gas exploration, and agreed once again on fishing quotas in Arctic waters. This weekend also marked the first time that a high-ranking Chinese government official has visited Norway since a diplomatic freeze set in over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao in 2010. Brende told DN ahead of the meeting, however, that “the bilateral relationship” between Norway and China was not on the agenda. “We will only talk about the WTO,” Brende said. Berglund

  • frenk

    Strange country to have this meeting in…..Norway. A country not known for ‘encouraging’ free trade….have you been to a supermarket in Norway?

    • inquisitor

      The US domestic manufacturing, production and job market is in the worst situation it has ever been in for the country. Ross Perot was the non-politician prophet and “controversial” candidate who warned of this decades in advance, particularly with Bill Clinton’s passing of NAFTA. What we have today may have been curtailed had Perot been voted in and allowed to stop such slow suicide from occurring. It is the decades of the absence of protectionism that has diminished the US and favoritism bought by foreign lobbyist and corporate money controlling US politics. This is why Trumps’, a non-bought off politician, policies have put him where he is over any other Republican with the most black and hispanic support than any Republican ever. Many in the lower and middle class recognize this and want strong nationalism, strong borders, enforced laws and order and trade deals that no longer diminish the US any longer. The shortcomings of the dominant policies of the left, particularly of loose immigration, are merely coming to the obvious surface and many see the need for a change from globalism, from suicidal trade dealings and sociopathic altruism. Anyone labeling US nationalism and a desire to end the catastrophic globalist policies that are obviously to the detriment of the US economy as “anti-free trade” is a liar, as “free trade” can exist without it being done on the current terms. Norway is the only western country not operating in extreme debt and has the largest surplus of wealth in its fund. Norway’s protectionism should be the very first benchmark that the US strives to achieve, and from there even beyond. Any working class person I have spoken with from many countries all share the same attitude that their joining the EU was a disaster for them. Stop listening to the top-down globalist authoritarians and their blueprints to present and future failure. People in the US are now hard-pressed to concern themselves with the dire issues rather than the manipulation of emotions commonly seen in the compromised press evidenced by the wikileaks revelations.

      • frenk

        I’m sorry – you need to base your points/arguments on facts?

        American manufacturing is a mess because the products they were/are producing is mostly crap. Take their car industry for example – European and Japanese manufactures produce much better cars – more expensive yes – but more reliable, more fuel efficient etc.
        American manufacturing has been in decline for decades…protectionism isn’t going to help – only hard work, new ideas, processes, standards, and innovation works in the globalized 21st century. Maybe Trump should be truthful about this?

        You cannot use Norway as an example for anything in the ‘real’ world as the state subsidizes (controls) everything in one way or another. The average Norwegian family (making up at least 85% of the population) owns virtually no ‘real’ wealth. Prices are high, quality is poor, choice is poor and this is a direct result of protectionism which doesn’t actually help average Norwegians…it just makes their lives very very expensive = boring and unhealthy, The average standard of living in Norway is very very low compared to what I have seen and experienced in most of the EU.

        In actual fact life in the EU for most of it’s citizens is actually fantastic – food, infrastructure, health, services etc! Forming an economic union with countries like Spain, Italy, Greece was always going to be ‘difficult’ as they were not too good at collecting taxes and running their administrations. But, as we can seen, both Portugal and Spain are recovering – Greece is in a holding position – once we deal with the ‘Italy’ situation the EU will be in a strong position to compete globally and provide for it’s citizens.

        • inquisitor

          You haven’t negated my points, but merely added to them.