Chinese firm wins new stab at bridge

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Politicians in Trøndelag have opted to show some “decency” when interpreting their bidding policy. They’re now allowing the Chinese company Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG) to continue taking part in competition with two European companies to build a bridge, after the company publicly complained they were being excluded, and set off worries of new disruption in trade with China.

A new bridge over the Beitstad Sound in Trøndelag is part of improvements to County Roads 17 and 720 in Trøndelag. ILLUSTRATION: Statens vegvesen

“This is a day of joy for all of us employed in SRBG, for our local suppliers and cooperating partners in Trøndelag,” declared Alexandros Tsetsis, contract chief and spokesman for SRBG in a press release issued Tuesday. “We hope and want to get the opportunity to work with (highway department) Statens vegvesen and Cowi in connection with the Beitstadsund Bridge.”

Opinions continue to vary over whether competition from Chinese companies is welcome in Norwegian road- and bridge-building. The state highway department had reported in mid-October that the local politicians in Trøndelag had instructed it to disregard SRBG’s bid, even though it was much lower than two other bids submitted by Swedish-owned Skanska Norge AS and Austrian-owned PNC Norge AS. That set off bitter complaints of a “boycott” from SRBG.

Now the local politicians have reconsidered, after their dismissal of the lowest bid became national news in Norway. Since the Chinese company was invited to take part in an international bidding process, and later had several meetings with local road authorities and others, the county politicians voted that SRBG be allowed to remain in the running for the bridge-building contract, worth around NOK 300 million, as a matter of “common decency.”

Trade fears arose
There also were fears that Chinese officials would get so angry over being excluded from further consideration for the bridge contract that it would jeopardize Norway’s own exports of salmon to China, and disturb negotiations for a free trade deal between Norway and China. Those sensitive negotiations are only now resuming after a six-year diplomatic freeze followed the 2010 awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

“When the Chinese are first invited to offer a price in an international bidding competition, and then are excluded, there’s something not right,” Per Sandberg, Norway’s fisheries minister, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday morning. He was glad SRBG wil now move forward in the bridge bidding process.

The local politicians in Trøndelag who’d decided they preferred working with rival bidders were also subjected to some questioning from the foreign ministry, which requested documentation of the bridge bids. SRBG’s bid was around NOK 40 million lower than the next-highest bid.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Wednesday that some organizations representing local salmon producers also put some pressure on the politicians: “In this case, state marketing agency Sjømat Norge and (national employers’ organization) NHO made sure that the county politicians know how fragile market access to China is,” Alf Jostein Skjærvik of Sjømat Norge told DN.

Now the state highway department will evaluate all three bids for the bridge job, and determine which companies have the most experience, the best safety records and competence to complete the job. Then Statens vegvesen will make a recommendation based on various criteria for the project. A winner is expected to be announced next week.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund