China trade rises despite boycott

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Even though China has been politically punishing Norway since 2010, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, trade between the two countries continues to rise. New statistics released this week indicate the only “punishment” has been that it hasn’t risen even higher.

Elkem Solar boasts that it can produce solar grade silicon with one-fourth of the energy compared with similar technologies. Elkem's new Chinese owner wants to develop Elkem's ideas.PHOTO: Elkem/Nicolas Tourrenc)

Elkem Solar produces goods in Norway that China needs, and it was itself bought up by Chinese interests after the Nobel Peace Prize controversy erupted.PHOTO: Elkem/Nicolas Tourrenc.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday that the value of Norwegian exports to China rose more than 50 percent during the four years from 2010 to 2014, despite the threatened boycott and low inflation. According to state statistics bureau SSB, exports to China amounted to NOK 20.2 billion, up from around NOK 10 billion in 2010 when China first threatened a trade boycott against Norway.

Imports from China are also up, with Norway importing an estimated NOK 53 billion worth of goods from China, up 12 percent from 2013. The trade balance is heavily in China’s favour, but that’s not considered unexpected or unusual.

“The Chinese have an interest in selling as much as they can to Norway despite the Peace Prize, and Norwegians love reasonably priced consumer goods,” Knut E Sunde, director of trade association Norsk Industri, told DN. “And Norwegian industry mostly sells directly to Chinese industry. All this goes under the political radar.”

Trade between Norway and China has also been brisk during the first three months of this year, according to the numbers released by SSB on Wednesday. Exports to China rose 39 percent to a value of NOK 6.1 billion, on top of a 24 percent increase last year. Of that, Norway exported NOK 1.6 billion worth of machinery and transport-related items, NOK 1.5 billion worth of chemicals and nearly NOK 600 million worth of food, mostly fish. The latter comes despite a much-publicized decision by China to restrict salmon imports from Norway. It went into effect at the end of last month, though, so the salmon boycott wasn’t reflected in the first-quarter figures.

The numbers can suggest that the Peace Prize controversy and China’s diplomatic freeze with Norway hasn’t hurt much after all. Sunde noted, though, that it remains “very seldom” that Norwegian goods are sold to state-owned companies or “prestigious” projects like roads or airports, “where politicians are typically in place during opening ceremonies.” Salmon has also been targeted and Norway’s seafood industry has been complaining loudly.

“But the boycott doesn’t hit areas like shipyards that need advanced shipping equipment and technology from Norway, car parts from Raufoss or solsilium from the now-Chinese-owned Elkem Solar,” Sunde told DN.

The value of Norway’s exports to China would also likely have been much  larger if the Peace Prize controversy hadn’t erupted, he added. “We see that many western countries have had considerably stronger growth than Norway at a time when China’s imports have increased greatly,” Sunde said. “So Norway’s gross market share hasn’t increased.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund