Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her foreign minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, smiled for cameras ahead of Tuesday’s opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. Both, however, are “sad” and disappointed over how US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric is putting years of international cooperation at risk, and they intend to speak along entirely different lines.
“I never would have thought that in 2018, I’d need to use so many resources to preserve rights that everyone has viewed as established for a long time,” Søreide told Norwegian reporters when she and Solberg met with them atop a highrise in Manhattan, just as the UN’s “high-level” week of meetings was beginning. Søreide was referring primarily to basic human rights that now are an important part of her agenda in New York.
“We’re seeing a lot of pressure on rights we were certain no one would challenge,” Søreide said. “Sexual and reproductive rights are a good example.” Then came Trump, and his administration has since been cutting or whittling away at them. She calls the development “sad,” and stressed how she and her colleagues now must “work to promote and preserve the rights we have and avoid setbacks. That has to be the priority, ahead of new initiatives.”
Søreide and Solberg won’t only be promoting Norway’s candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council during their time at the UN in New York. While Trump is expected to once again promote American sovereignty during his address on Tuesday, Solberg and her delegation from Norway will talk about defending international cooperation, free trade and human rights.
“It’s not just the US that’s challenging the liberal world order at the moment,” Solberg said. “The first 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall are a happy story regarding international development. Now we’re going backwards.”
She was referring to how Trump, without consulting the US Congress, is pulling the US out of the UN climate agreement struck in Paris, the Iran nuclear agreement and several international trade agreements. He has raised doubts and uncertainty about NATO and recently threatened to also pull the US out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), just as he imposes more punitive tariffs on Chinese imports and launches a trade war with China, the EU and several other countries. He’s also known to be unpredictable: Trump used his address to the UN General Assembly to mock North Korea’s leader and call him “little rocket man.” Now he’s hailed Kim Jong-un as being “open” and even “terrific” after meeting with him earlier this year.
Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten that she is deeply worried about what will happen regarding international regulations and development of international trade. She said that Trump’s trade war and punitive tariffs “are in direct contrast” to the UN’s sustainability goals for 2030, which she has been actively promoting for years.
“When we’re faced with protectionism and a trade war, there are no winners, only losers,” Solberg said. She noted how the progress over the past 30 years in lifting more and more people out of poverty is directly tied to participation in international trade. “It will be most unfortunate if more protectionism reduces trade and welfare improvements around the world.”
Solberg and Søreide are likely to be careful with their criticism directed at the US. They emphasize that the setbacks in international cooperation and development are part of a wider trend. Countries that earlier gave “politically correct answers” now dare to be more open about their opposition, said Solberg, without naming any specific nations.
Solberg’s conservative coalition government, meanwhile, formally agreed on Sunday to contribute NOK 660 million (USD 81.5 million) over the next four years to the UN’s human rights initiative, now led by the former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. She was grateful: “Human rights have been under attack for many different reasons, but we can’t give up, and the support from Norway is extremely important.” The money will be earmarked for programs to enhance freedom of expression and religion and defense of human rights.
Norway is also supporting Canada’s initiative to save cooperation within the WTO. Søreide told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that Canada has invited Norway and 11 other WTO countries to a summit in Ottawa next month. The goal is to find ways of strengthening the WTO and modernizing the international trade system at a time when Trump is trying to weaken or interfere with it. Other countries sending representatives include Australia, Brazil, Chile, Kenya and Mexico, along with a delegation from the EU. China and the US were not invited.
Tariffs can backfire on Trump
DN asked Solberg, meanwhile, during an informal meeting after a long day on Sunday whether she thinks any of the arguments in favour of global trade cooperation are understood by Trump.
“No, he’s pre-occupied with delivering results for his own voters, and doesn’t think so much about the Norwegian aluminum industry,” Solberg responded. “If you’re trying to argue with Trump, you have to show how tariff barriers will hurt his own goal, which is to strengthen business in the US.” Looming mid-term elections may strengthen Trump’s political opposition in Congress, she noted, but Solberg also pointed out how he has imposed punitive tariffs without involving Congress, because he tied them to national security issues.
“We must remember, though, that Republicans are traditionally most in favour of free trade, to a higher degree than Democrats,” Solberg said. “The question is how much Trump will do in the future, without involving Congress.” She has no meetings set with Trump this week, but said she’d gladly have a chat with him: “It can happen that we meet in the hallways.”