Trade Minister Trond Giske said he still believes Norway will sign a free trade deal with China before next summer, even though China is making it clear that it’s unhappy with Norway after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Giske joined all other government ministers in claiming that they were working on the principle of “business as usual.” Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen did not experience that in Shanghai on Monday, though, when she was informed that an important meeting in Beijing had already been cancelled.
“I think it’s sad that a meeting with the fisheries minister has been cancelled, and I have difficulties seeing the connection between the Peace Prize and the fishing industry,” Giske told newspaper Aftenposten. “But I’m not especially worried about trade and progress with the free trade deal.”
He noted that Norwegian and Chinese officials have been negotiating the free trade deal for two years. “We know each other well and have a good tone,” Giske said.
“Our ambition is to complete the deal during 2011, preferably during the first half,” Giske told Aftenposten. He is considering making a third trip to China and still expects to have another meeting on the deal around New Year.
The deal would be the first between China and a European country and would open the Chinese market for all Norwegian products. It could cut import duties on products like Norwegian seafood from as much as 14 percent to just 2 percent.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said he also was sorry the meeting between Berg-Hansen and her Chinese counterpart had been cancelled.
“This is a cooperation that’s important for both countries and affects industry experts, researchers and consumers,” Støre said. “We want to further the good cooperation we’ve had on the fisheries side, and believe that’s in China’s interests also.
“To the degree that (the cancellation) had to do with the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, it was an unnecessary reaction,” Støre said.