Norway’s aim to raise foreign food import tolls will have serious repercussions, the EU cautions.
The impending row over involves imports of several foodstuffs such as cheese and meat. It follows tri-partite coalition member the Centre Party’s (Sp) success in hammering through kroner to percent-based duty changes.
Under the new scheme, each kilo will be subject to excess amounts based on the product’s purchase price. It replaces the current pre-set amount in kroner, and affects products such as steaks, fillets of beef, lamb, and hard cheeses – with the exception of Manchego and Parmesan, for example.
Soft cheeses such as Brie will continue to be exempt from these measures. Earlier this year, farmers’ dairy cooperative TINE called for increased duties on cheeses that directly compete with Jarlsberg and Norvegia. Reactions by consumers led to the proposal being dropped.
EU ambassador to Norway János Herman tells Aftenposten he is “disappointed”. Referring to the renegotiated Article 19 in the EEA Agreement, which commits Norway and the EU to work towards a gradual liberalisation in bi-lateral agriculture products trade, he continues, “It was a surprise to read about this in the paper. It’s a clear breach of the intention in the deal which came into effect in January this year.”
“This deal was negotiated in good faith. There will certainly be reactions should they [the government] really decide to do this. I don’t know what these will be, but we regard this as being extremely grave,” says the ambassador, adding the EU has asked Norwegian authorities for an explanation of Norway’s intentions and the matter “is now at a political level.”
Sweden and Denmark have also greeted the Centre Party’s proposal extremely negatively, and representatives in Norway’s fishing sector fear it will hit exports.
However, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has noted Ambassador Herman’s remarks, declaring he remains unruffled at the threat of a trade war.
“We have good channels where we can clarify and elaborate on the suggested changes with the EU. Many of the reactions expressed are extremely wide of the mark. WTO legislation allows us the right to make this change and I would caution against speculating about trading partners’ arbitrary countermeasures.”
Moreover, Minister of Agriculture and Food Trygve Slagsvold Vedum argues tariff protection is vital to protecting Norwegian food production, and in keeping with the government’s aim of having this.
Earlier this week, Progress Party (FrP) leader Siv Jensen upset farmers following statements they will be trimming state subsidies to farming by NOK 6 billion and decreasing farming’s favourable import duty arrangements for the benefit of consumers and businesses should they gain power next year.
“I don’t think farmers should be so terribly afraid of a little competition. All industries which refuse to adapt will die out,” she stated.