Norway caught in Trump’s trade war

Bookmark and Share

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide disclosed on Friday that the US Trump Administration has not exempted Norway from its harsh new tariffs on steel and aluminum. The Norwegian government, which earlier had criticized the US’ threatened protectionism, called US President Donald Trump’s new trade barriers “serious and worrisome.”

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide was warmly received by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington just two months ago. Tillerson has since been fired and now his former boss, US President Donald Trump, has hit Norway and many other countries around the world with punitive import tariffs on steel and aluminum. PHOTO: Ambassaden i Washington/Johanne Furuseth

“American authorities informed us late last night (Thursday) that Norway is not among the countries that have been exempted from the US’ new tariffs on steel and aluminum,” Søreide wrote in an email to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

All the countries in the European Union (EU) plus Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea have been exempted, but not Norway. The US’ punitive action comes despite Norway’s own comprehensive trade deal with the EU that requires it to abide by most all EU directives and regulations. The news from Washington came just hours after the Norwegian Parliament also voted to join the EU’s new energy union, albeit controversially.

Norway’s close ties to and, some argue, de facto inclusion in the EU apparently carried no weight with the Trump Administration. Nor did the much-hyped status of the US and Norway as “close allies,” fellow members of NATO or a wave of political superlatives about the “excellent relations” and “close ties” that flowed from Trump himself when both Søreide and Prime Minister Erna Solberg visited the US president and several of his top cabinet members including Søreide’s counterpart at the time, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Trump has since fired him.

Norway ‘no threat to the USA’
“We (the Norwegian government) will follow up this issue with American authorities today, both in Washington and in Oslo,” Søreide told NRK. “We expect the WTO (World Trade Organization)’s regulations to be respected and that Norway will be treated equally in this case.

Foreign Minister Søreide, addressing the European Parliament’s foreign relations committee earlier this week. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

“Norwegian exports are no threat to the USA,” Søreide added. “We will make this clear to the USA today.” Trump’s new tariffs are due to take effect at 5pm Norwegian time on Friday.

Norway exports the vast majority of its aluminum to Europe and other countries, and very little to the US. What worries and upsets Søreide and other Norwegian authorities is the lack of respect for trade treaties that’s behind Trump’s decision to penalize countries he views as threats to the US’ own products. He has thus opted for a brand of protectionism that most of the rest of the world has been trying to do away with for years.

‘Raises doubts about respect’
“It is serious and worrisome that the US has decided to implement trade hindrances for aluminum and steel,” Søreide stated. “This raises doubts about respect for the multilateral, regulation-based trade system. We expect WTO regulations to be maintained for all WTO members.”

Instead, steel and aluminum from all countries not named in the US’ initial list of exemptions are now subject to an extra customs duty of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Norway is now among those facing what amounts to a new punitive tax.

Trump’s official justification for the higher import duties is that US production of steel and aluminum has declined so much, because of competition from cheaper international producers, that it poses a national security risk. His new tariffs are especially targeted at China, which claimed Friday morning that Trump had thus started a “trade war” that China would fight to the bitter end.

More trouble for Hydro
Both aluminum and steel are important export products for Norway, which currently ranks as Europe’s largest producer of prime aluminum. Much of it is produced by Norwegian industrial firm Norsk Hydro ASA, in which the Norwegian state has a 34 percent ownership stake.

NRK reported Friday that Hydro alone produces more raw aluminum than US producers do, leaving the US with a need to import nearly 5 million tons of a year. Hydro, which owns and operates four aluminum plants in Norway, does not export directly to the US but rather from plants in Europe and teh Middle East. It’s thus not expected to be seriously affected by the US’ new tariffs, but objects along with the US government to Trump’s protectionist move.

“This is unfavourable for the entire aluminum industry,” Hydro spokesman Halvor Mollan told NRK. “Our position is that we want free and open trade, and that one-sided trade barriers can lead to changes in the flow of goods in the world.” Hydro, which already faces other trouble at its large Alunorte aluminum refinery in Brazil, also worries the US new trade barriers can lead to trade wars if other nations implement measures to counter Trump’s tariffs.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund