Norway’s government minister in charge of business and trade, Monica Mæland, has now sent a letter to her British counterpart, Liam Fox, to assure him that Norway will cooperate on forming the best possible bilateral trade deal between their two countries after Britain leaves the EU (Brexit). She felt a need to correct and clarify an erroneous report in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) earlier this week that Norway had rejected a British proposal to set up a working group now, to prepare a new trade pact.
DN corrected Monday’s erroneus report itself on Tuesday and elaborated on the issue Wednesday. After a new interview with Mæland, DN reported that the Norwegian government wanted to erase any doubt regarding Norway’s intentions for cooperation with British officials, and not add to the uncertainty already faced by companies engaged in trade between Britain and Norway.
Mæland said her ministry had taken the initative for a meeting between herself and Fox last month. “We wanted to be out there early and invite more contact on the consequences of Brexit,” Mæland told DN. “We agreed at the meeting to start a dialogue.”
There was no proposal to form a “working group” to shape a new bilateral trade deal, she insists. “Great Britain hasn’t decided yet on how it will pull out of the EU, but Fox was clear that they don’t envision a track through the EØS/EEA or EFTA,” Mæland told DN, referring to the European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association through which Norway trades with the EU.
“What we agreed on was that our current relations and cooperation (through the EU/EEA) will end,” Mæland said. “Whan that happens, we must be prepared in the best possible way. There are many possibilities and it’s much too early to see a solution now.”
Both Mæland and Fox need to be careful about not violating the rules around a withdrawal from the EU. British leaders must wait until they actually have left the EU before they can strike new bilateral trade deals with non-EU countries like Norway. That may not be for another two-and-a-half years. Mæland, meanwhile, doesn’t want to do anything that would put Norway’s existing trade agreement with the EU into play or jeopardize it in any way.
“I want to clarify what was decided (at her meeting with Fox) politically,” Mæland told DN. “We will both do all we can to secure an agreement on market access for Norwegian companies that’s as good or better (than what governs such access today) and at the same time act correctly regarding today’s EØS (EEA) agreement.”
It’s important, Mæland wrote to Fox, for the Norwegian and British governments to now have an “open dialogue” to identify questions and reduce future confusion. Mæland told DN that the theme of her meeting with Fox wasn’t to start any negotiations on a trade agreement itself, but only to look at Brexit’s consequences for business and secure “good communication.”
Mæland said her ministry would be “flexible” regarding what form the “dialogue” between Norwegian and British officials would take. “It can be through a working group or another form of cooperation,” she said.