Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg is in the midst of one of her busiest and arguably most important weeks ever. After securing support from top EU officials in Brussels for exemption from retaliatory import fees aimed at the US, Solberg was meeting in London Wednesday with British Prime Minister Theresa May and then she’ll take part in the G7 Summit in Quebec.
It’s the first time a Norwegian prime minister has ever been invited to the meeting of the leaders of the world’s seven major economies that, until now, have cooperated as an international industrial forum made up of the US, France, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Canada. They’ve all been close allies for years, but now US President Donald Trump has managed to offend, frustrate and anger all the other six members of the G7 in addition to China, Russia and most of the rest of the world with the new, high customs duties he’s slapped on steel and aluminum imports not only from China but from the US’ own allies including Canada, Mexico and the EU.
Norway, a large producer of aluminum and also a long-time ally of the US, has been hit as well by Trump’s new import fees, which are widely viewed as purely protectionistic. Norway’s failure to obtain an exemption from the US doesn’t pose a economic crisis in itself, since Norway exports little steel or aluminum directly to the US, but the EU is Norway’s largest market. Solberg’s government has thus been lobbying hard to make sure that the EU’s proposed retaliatory import fees against the US wouldn’t also be slapped on Norway, which has a broad if expensive trade agreement with the EU already that effectively makes Norway part of the EU’s inner market.
‘Memorable day’ as EU pact ‘saved Norwegian industry’
Solberg met on Tuesday with both of the EU’s top officials, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, and at least secured their support for Norway. Juncker made it clear that Norway will not be hit by the “negative consequences” of the EU’s own import fees that may be imposed as a response to Trump’s. Both Juncker and Tusk expressed stong support for Norway and stressed the “close relations” between Norway and the EU.
It was all a huge relief for the Norwegian government and not least Norwegian industry. Knut Sunde, director in the industrial trade association Norsk Industri, called it a “memorable day,” and claimed Norway’s trade agreement with the EU (called the EØS-avtale) had “saved Norwegian industry.”
Solberg said she was “very grateful” for the EU’s support and thanked Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and her staff for their hard work in advance of Tuesday’s meetings. Solberg also made it unusually clear once again that Norway strongly opposes Trump’s pending disruption of world trade, that’s setting off a trade war. Trump has defended his highly controversial and punitive import fees as means of protecting the US’ national security.
“I’m sorry that the US is now further escalating protectionist measures in trade policy,” Solberg stated in Brussels on Tuesday. “It’s unthinkable that Norwegian exports of steel and aluminum could contribute to weakening the US’ security.” The leaders of Canada, Germany and France have made similar remarks, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling Trump’s trade tactics “insulting and unacceptable” towards allies that have long fought side-by-side with the US in conflicts around the world. Many now worry Trump’s policies will also put more pressure on the NATO alliance that includes most EU nations, Norway and Canada.
None of the members of the G7 can understand or support Trump’s trade tactics and will make that extra clear at their looming meeting to be hosted by Trudeau on Friday and Saturday. Commentators predict it will be the most dramatic G7 gathering for several decades, with everyone against Trump.
Formally stressing the seas at G7, but…
Solberg will take part on Saturday, in an expanded format that will include a session on sustainable development and management of the world’s oceans. Solberg’s government is putting high priority on cleaning the seas, not least of microplastics, in order to secure them environmentally, as a source of food and jobs. Her participation at the G7 is historic, with Solberg calling it “a unique opportunity to discuss this theme (saving the seas) with the world economic superpowers.”
She stressed to Norwegian media that her goal is make the world’s most powerful leaders understand the importance of saving the world’s seas. She wasn’t ruling out, however, the chance to have another bilateral chat with Trump, whom she met at the White House in January, and she’s clearly part of the vast international majority against him on trade policy. Norway also has been deeply disappointed by Trump’s decision to pull the US out of both the UN climate agreement struck in Paris and the international agreement that prompted Iran to halt its nuclear program. Now Iran, faced with renewed US sanctions that Trump expects the rest of the world to follow, is already threatening to restart its nuclear program, setting off fears of a new major war in the Middle East.
Solberg, meanwhile, was moving on to London Wednesday for her first meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May since May took over after the Brexit referendum was narrowly approved. The two leaders had a lot to talk about, not least over how Norway and the UK will need to hammer out a new trade agreement between them when the UK leaves the EU.