Danes concede to ‘cheese war’ truce

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Denmark’s trade minister remains unhappy over the Norwegian government’s decision to boost import tariffs on cheese and meat, to protect domestic producers, but she’s reportedly calling off a “cheese war” with her fellow Scandinavians.

Danish Trade Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr told ABC Nyheter that “we have no need” for a trade war with Norway. Her remarks came after a meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide at the Nordic Council meeting this week in Finland.

Dyrh had strongly protested both the new import tariffs on meat and cheese, set to rise from January 1, and on potted hydrangea plants. Denmark wasn’t the only European trading partner upset by Norway’s latest round of protectionism, and EU officials have protested as well.

They claim the moves by the Norwegian government, aimed at keeping cheaper imports out of the Norwegian market and thus allowing Norwegian producers to raise their prices, violated the intention of agreements meant to further liberalize trade.

“I continue to disagree with Norway’s sharpening of customs duty on cheese,” Dyrh told ABC Nyheter. She added, though, that Norway’s measures to protect Norwegian-produced cheese and meat don’t amount to a direct violation of either  WTO (World Trade Organisation) or European economic cooperation agreements.

Dyrh said she understands Norway’s argument that the government needs to raise prices for Norwegian farmers to preserve agricultural production in Norway, but she maintains that should have been addressed through increased state subsidies to agriculture.

“What Norway’s doing doesn’t benefit development in Europe,” she said. “We need more commerce and trade, not less.”

The Danes initially had threatened to retaliate for Norway’s higher import tariffs by imposing punitive tariffs of their own on Norwegian seafood and oil. Their apparent decision not to means the Norwegian politicians look likely to get away with imposing their own trade barriers, and that Norwegian consumers will still face higher prices for meat and cheese next year.

Recent figures reflecting cross border trade indicate that Norwegian consumers already are stocking up on cheaper cheese in Sweden and on types of cheese that may disappear from the Norwegian market, like Dutch Gouda and English cheddar.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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