UK free trade deal wins muted support

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There was little if any customary outrage when Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg presented a new free trade deal on Friday, this time with the UK. She called the agreement “historic,” criticism was largely restrained and even Norway’s chronically unhappy farm lobby called at least parts of  it “good.”

PHOTO: NFD/Øyvinn Myge

Negotiations had, as usual, pitted Norway’s farmers against the country’s large fishing industry. Norwegian fish and seafood won even more access to the British market while Norwegian beef, lamb and dairy products, especially cheese, were mostly protected from British imports.

“That’s good,” said the head of the farm lobby Norges Bondelag, Lars Petter Bartnes after the deal was confirmed. He expressed worries over not getting more protection for Norwegian pork, chicken, eggs and produce, while the leader of Norwegian employers organization NHO complained that Norway should have won even better UK market access for Norwegian seafood.

In general, though, criticism was at least initially muted. Solberg and her trade minister, Iselin Nybø downplayed some reported drama that dragged out an agreement that had been expected last winter. Nybø claimed negotiations on such a “comprehensive and ambitious” free trade deal actually moved quickly compared to earlier free trade negotiations with other countries and international organizations. They were also complicated by Corona restrictions that prevented face-to-face meetings.

More than fish and cheese
While the fishing and farming industries usually grab the most attention during Norwegian trade negotiations, the huge agreement with the UK covers much more given all the goods and services involved. Norwegians could be relieved to learn that they won’t have to worry about roaming charges on their mobile phones when they’re finally allowed to freely travel back and forth to the UK. That’s been standard through Norway’s deal with the EU, but when the UK left the EU, all those sorts of issues had to be negotiated all over again.

Solberg stressed that a free trade deal with the UK could never be as good as the trade agreement Norway has with the EU, but many of the features of the EU deal will carry over in the new deal. Solberg believes the deal will also create “positive ripple effects” for new business creation and innovation. Great Britain is a major trading partner for Norway, with Nybø stating she kept thinking “we can work it out” during the lengthy process.

Christian Democrats’ reluctant blessing
Now the government’s proposed deal will be sent to Parliament, where more debate is expected but approval is predicted. Even the Christian Democrats’ agriculture minister, Olaug Bollestad, was praising it Friday despite lots of earlier reported resistance. Most all agreed that it’s important to have the deal in place before the summer holidays, to protect jobs.

“There’s been a lot of give and take here,” Solberg said. “Our agreement with the British must be viewed in a long-term perspective. We will get Norway moving again on our way out of the pandemic, and then good agreements around exports are important.”

For the Norwegian government’s own summary of the deal, click here (external link to the government’s website.) 

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund