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Brutal Brexit for Norway

When the UK leaves the EU, they also leave the EEA, and Norway will be on the brink of its main trading partner.


Wednesday 29. In March, British Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter to President of the European Council Donald Tusk. She announced that the UK will leave the EU under Article 50 of the EU Treaty. Thus, a two-year negotiation deadline for the British to withdraw from the EU is set in motion. Two years, at best, because EU countries first want to agree on terms of resignation before negotiations on the British's new ties to the EU can begin. Thus, we are probably talking about four to six, maybe eight years of negotiations. The EU countries' response to May's letter came the following day, triggering a political bomb, with Spain to have final say on the British colony of Gibraltar's relationship with Spain. The Scottish Parliament has decided to ask London for permission to hold a new referendum on Scottish autonomy, and Northern Ireland's Good Friday agreement is beginning to squeak in the joins. In May's letter, the London government warns that power they are withdrawing from Brussels will be distributed among the authorities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. At best, the UK is becoming more decentralized. In the worst case, the country can disintegrate.

145 billion. All of these conflicts receive a great deal of attention in the foreign and Norwegian press. But paradoxically, the Norwegian media is almost totally devoid of discussion about the consequences Brexit can have for Norway and Norwegian interests. Not only for businesses that want to trade with the UK, but also for students, pensioners, tourists, research and cultural activities that have been organized through the EEA Agreement during the last 22 years. Because when the UK leaves the EU, they also leave the EEA. Then we will lose all the rights and obligations that the EEA cooperation has given, and Norway will stand on the ground facing its most important trading partner. If we include oil and gas, the British are the ones we deal with most, with a surplus of a staggering 145 billion in 2015. If we keep petroleum out, trade with the British comes in fourth place, after Sweden, Germany and Denmark.

Theresa May's government aims to become the world's leading trading nation

As an EEA country, Norway is in a special position. Neither the UK nor Norway have the opportunity to enter into formal negotiations before the agreement with the EU is in port. And by that time it will be very difficult to get the British to speak, as they will have full focus on making trade agreements with other, more significant countries such as Australia, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam, just to name a few. Both in volume and profit, these countries are far more important to the British than Norway.

Our relationship with the UK will be similar to the relationship we have with the US, China and Russia.

From the resignation of the British until a new bilateral agreement between the UK and Norway comes into place, our relationship with the British will be governed by the rules applicable to the World Trade Organization (WTO). These do not cover the service sector, residence and work permits, investment protection, the right to study, and at least not hospital stay coverage. Our relationship with the UK will be similar to the relationship we currently have with the US, China and Russia. We can buy and sell goods, but all other forms of cooperation will be very difficult and difficult.

Possibilities. Theresa May's government aims to become the world's leading trading nation. They want to reduce tariff barriers and make trading an economic driver. The biggest challenge for Norway is that the British will seek to gain market access in all areas, including fish and agriculture. While Norwegian agriculture will feel threatened, the Norwegian seafood industry will see its cut to achieve full market access on processed fish products, something that the EEA agreement does not allow. Today, around 20 000 jobs in Denmark, Germany and Poland process Norwegian salmon and sell it further in the EU. If the seafood industry gains full market access in a new agreement with the United Kingdom, they can restore the fish processing industry along the coast.

Negotiations with the British will thus unravel the trapped trade policy situation Norway has lived with since 1992.

Neither May's letter nor Tusk's reply mentioned the EEA in a single word. The government says they are monitoring the situation closely. Instead, it should use the chairmanship of the Nordic Council to mobilize our Nordic neighboring countries – and why not the EU countries receiving EEA funding? – to assert our right to start negotiations with the British well in advance of the agreement with the EU. Everything else will be irresponsible.

Paal Frisvold author of the book Towards Europe.

Paal Frisvold
Paal Frisvold
Writer for MODERN TIMES on Europe issues.

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