Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende flew to Washington DC this past week with a bold and unusual message for the new US Trump Administration and Republican politicians who support it. Armed with statistics compiled with the help of the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, Brende intended to prove how a foreign country like Norway doesn’t threaten to take jobs away from the US but actually can create jobs in the US, and thus contribute to making both itself and America great.
Not great “again,” necessarily, because a vast majority of Norwegians think their own nation and the US are rather “great” already despite all the political debate of late. Many in Norway, where there’s recently been debate over moving jobs from Oslo to outlying areas of the country, have been confused by Trump’s harsh criticism of his own nation, with his talk of “American carnage,” how he inherited “a mess,” infrastructure that’s “a disaster” and “catastrophic” losses of jobs abroad. Norwegians and their leaders like Foreign Minister Brende still generally regard the US as an innovative super-power and strong ally, were glad to see the US economy improve after the finance crisis of 2008 and now want to stay good friends.
Brende, however, has been uncertain and even worried since the election of US President Donald J Trump, as have many other top officials of other countries around the world. Not just because he and other Norwegian officials had far more contacts and were arguably far more in agreement with the team surrounding Trump’s presidential rival Hillary Clinton, but because of what Brende and others view as Trump’s unpredictable policies that are characterized by protectionism and isolationism. Brende is thus more keen than ever to make a case that strong international cooperation, not least within trade and business, is more important than ever.
470,000 US jobs backed by Norway
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Tuesday that Brende will be unveiling statistics this week showing that Norway has created no less than 470,000 jobs in the US in recent years, possibly more. Norwegian companies like oil company Statoil, defense contractor Kongsberggruppen, fertilizer and chemical firm Yara International, ammunition producer Nammo and airline Norwegian Air all have substantial operations in the US, while Norwegian technology has helped spawn many start-up firms from California’s Silicon Valley to the US’ Eastern Seaboard. Norwegian design and architecture aren’t far behind, while Norwegian shipping, offshore and even consulting expertise have played major roles. Norwegians in turn are also reliable customers of American films, music, TV series, high-tech gadgets, clothing and a long list of other products that are made in the US.
It’s the huge investment in US stocklisted companies by Norway’s Oil Fund, however, that has been the biggest and most consistent factor in job creation in the US over the past 20 years. Norway may be a small country with its population of just 5.2 million but it’s an extremely wealthy country because of its offshore oil and gas industry, the resources of which have been carefully monitored and stashed away over the past four decades in the Oil Fund. It now ranks as one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.
Norway thus carries more clout than a small country might otherwise have, because it’s in a position to invest in foreign economies, to consistently rank among the largest contributors to the United Nations and to donate one of the world’s largest percentages of gross national product to foreign aid. Brende will have the ear this week of not only his new American counterpart, Trump’s US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but also the leaders of the US Senate’s foreign relations and defense committees, both Republicans.
Congresswoman will get an earful
It will be at a meeting with a conservative Republican member of the US House of Representatives from Arizona, Martha McSally, however, that Brende will play his, for lack of a better term, trump card. Trump himself is on a mission to create new jobs in the US, and Norway is more than willing to keep contributing to that effort.
“This is an important time to contribute such information into the American system,” Brende told DN. “Norway has finely tuned competence within a variety of fields and that creates jobs both in Norway and the countries where Norwegian companies are engaged.
“What we want to present with this report is how tightly woven the Norwegian and US economies really are. It’s not just about investment and trade, but about actual workplaces in both the US and Norway.”
The session with McSally, literally called “Norway Creates Jobs in the US,” will show how Norway has contributed to job creation in each of the 50 states, from 60,759 in California and 47,364 in Texas at the high end of the scale to 1,107 in Wyoming and 806 in Vermont at the low end. Several states in which Trump attracted votes from disgruntled Americans are included in the top 10, including Ohio (15,554 jobs backed by Norway), Florida (26,024) and Pennsylvania (19,898). Those jobs were aided by industries in which Norway is a leader, from energy to cruise. Norway can also claim ties to the creation of 7,675 jobs in McSally’s home state of Arizona.
Less trade and cooperation ‘not the answer’
The Norwegian report directly challenges Trump’s stated goal of protectionism by putting “America First,” suggesting that’s not the best route to job creation. DN reported how Norway’s ambassador the US, Kåre R Aas, writes in the report’s forward that exchange of knowledge, free movement of people and trade between two of the wealthiest and most advanced economies (on the globe) create the real “win-win situation.” Aas went on to write how that’s why both the US and Norway must strive towards even more economic exchange and “try to remove barriers to trade an investment.”
Brende also wants to build ties, not walls. “I think this is important information to get out in a time when it’s being argued from many camps for less trade and less international cooperation,” Brende told DN. “That’s not the answer to today’s challenges. I want to make the point in Washington DC for strengthening trade and investment between our two countries, in pure ‘win-win’ style.”
Even the US’ own former ambassador to Norway, Sam Heins of Minnesota (8,008 jobs tied to Norway along with lots of Norwegian-Americans), contributed to the report. Heins, after less than a year in the country, noted that Norway is now the 10th fastest-growing source of foreign direct investment in the US, and that Norway was the 14th largest source of foreign investment in the US in 2014, to the tune of USD 32 billion. That compares to US investment in Norway of USD 39 billion.
All told, there are now 300 Norwegian companies in the US employing around 80,000 Americans. The report based the other 390,000 jobs created by Norway’s Oil Fund on the fund’s percentage (0.94) of holdings in publicly traded companies in the US, which collectively employ around 41.5 million Americans.
Norway’s decision to take the time to create such a report, and admittedly bang its own drum, may inspire other countries who feel threatened by or disagree with Trump’s protectionist remarks to compile reports of their own. Even China, for example, which has suffered the brunt of Trump’s trade attacks, has invested heavily in the US, and what would fill the shelves of Wal-Mart stores in the US if it weren’t for all the cheap merchandise largely manufactured abroad? Norwegian diplomats may be willing to help others in efforts to broaden Trump’s perspectives. In the meantime, Brende and his colleagues at the Norwegian foreign ministry, in other branches of the Norwegian government and at the embassy in Washington may well be the first out.