Fishermen try to reel in farmers

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As concerns rise that Norway is setting off a trade dispute with some of its most important trading partners, officials in the country’s large seafood industry are among the most vocal. They’re objecting loudly to higher tariffs for agricultural products, arguing that more protection for Norwegian farmers will come at the expense of Norway’s fishermen and fish farmers.

Seafood industry advocates don't want the sun to set on either Norway's fishing or fish-farming industries because of protectionist moves to support Norwegian agriculture. PHOTO: Marine Harvest

Both traditional fishing and fish-farming organizations are warning against any government moves to appease domestic agricultural interests by increasing tariffs and customs duties on competing imports. Billions worth of seafood exports are at stake, they claim.

“There’s every reason to fear that it will fly back in our face if Norway increases tariffs on the import of agricultural products,” Reidar Nilsen of the fishing organization Norges Fiskarlag told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday.

Nilsen points out that seafood exports from Norway amount to more than NOK 50 billion per year, with more than 95 percent of all Norwegian fish exported. Several countries are already threatening to resort to limiting their own imports of Norwegian fish, and also oil, if their own products hit more and higher import barriers coming into Norway.

Increased Norwegian protectionism can thus backfire against Norway’s two most important industries, oil and seafood. “That can’t be very wise politics,” Nilsen told DN. “I don’t have anything against agriculture, but I hope the government comes to its senses and finds some other means of helping farmers.”

‘Fighting hard’
Both the head of the national farmers’ organization and, in a concrete case that’s made headlines in Norway lately, Norway’s organization for flower and plant growers are agitating for higher import tariffs to protect their own products. The plant growers succeeded in getting the government to suddenly slap a 72 percent import tariff on hortensia (hydrangea) plants from Europe this summer, to artificially boost their prices so high that Norwegians would buy Norwegian hydrangeas instead.

Denmark’s trade minister has reacted angrily to the move, threatening to impose similar import tariffs on the oil and seafood that Norway sends to Denmark. Her anger over the hydrangea tariffs is shared by officials in other countries. Kristian Madsen of the Danish Gardeners’ Association said his group will fight the Norwegian protectionism within the European Union’s umbrella organization for agriculture, telling DN that “we will fight this hard, Germany and Holland area already joining us.”

Madsen mantains that “when you protect yourself behind a tariff wall, you live outside the real world of competition” and quality can decline. “And goods become more expensive for Norwegian consumers,” he said.

Scoffing at complaints
The Norwegian plant growers scoff at the Danes’ complaint, with Madsen’s counterpart in Norway, Anne Elverum of Norsk Garnerforbund arguing that tariffs “are part of Norwegian agricultural politics, needed because of our high income- and energy costs. So the Danish gardeners just have to live with that.”

Norwegian Trade Minister Trond Giske of the Labour Party has also appeared to dismiss the Danish complaints, but DN reports that there’s internal conflict within Norway’s coalition government. While the coalition’s small Center Party firmly supports the farmers’ demands, both the Labour-led finance- and foreign ministries are negative towards use of higher tariffs, according to DN. Negotiations continue over next year’s state budget and whether it will provide for higher tariffs.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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