Norway’s trade agreement with the European Union (known as the EØS-avtale) was getting credit for its official exemption this week from the EU’s new retaliatory customs duty on steel. It’s being imposed in response to the US Trump Administration’s own new import tax on steel, but the head of Norway’s anti-EU Center Party wouldn’t admit that the EØS pact saved Norway’s metals industry from huge costs.
The Center Party, which champions protection for Norwegian farmers from cheaper EU food imports, has long been almost as critical of the EØS/EEA trade deal as it is of EU membership. Now, with US President Donald Trump rejecting trade deals and even casting doubt on defense commitments, the Center Party is on the defense itself. It’s faced with both solid support for the EØS deal and rising interest in re-opening discussions of EU membership.
The EU confirmed on Thursday that Norway won’t be subjected to its new steel tariff, which otherwise applies to all non-EU countries, “because of the close economic ties between the EU and EEA (European Economic Area) countries.” They includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The exemption was expected, after Prime Minister Erna Solberg extracted support for it from EU leaders last month, and both Solberg’s government, industrial and business organizations credit Norway’s EØS/EEA trade deal.
Not Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum. He told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday that Norway won the exemption “because we are a good and stable trading partner with the EU.” He also claimed German industry “needs Norwegian aluminum production.” He wasn’t impressed that the three EØS/EEA countries won an exemption while non-EU member Switzerland did not, arguing that Switzerland has only a “minimal” metals industry.