The Minister of Trade and Industry's remarks at press conference on free trade agreement with the UK
Published under: Solberg's Government
Publisher Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries
Speech/statement | Date: 04/06/2021
In December I asked the Norwegian business community to get ready for some changes.
The United Kingdom, one of our most important trading partners, was leaving the single market.
Brexit would not go unnoticed in Norway.
The familiar playing field would need to be replaced.
Many Norwegians have close ties to the UK, whether through literature, music, holiday travel, university collaboration, study exchanges or a passionate interest in football.
We are tied to the United Kingdom in so many ways.
In everyday life, and in business.
That is why we have done everything we can to make sure it all can continue after Brexit.
Trade and market access and are crucial for a small, open economy like Norway’s.
They are also essential to our future welfare.
I am therefore proud to be able to present the most comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement Norway has ever negotiated, with the obvious exception of the EEA Agreement.
As the Prime Minister mentioned, the agreement was negotiated in record time, in the midst of a pandemic, on a fully digital platform, even as the EU and the UK were negotiating their own agreement.
It has been a demanding process, and senior officials in many ministries and agencies have worked day and night, right through to the finish line.
A lot was at stake.
A total of 22 % of all Norwegian exports go to the United Kingdom.
Norwegian goods are in high demand in the UK.
These include oil and gas, fish and seafood, and industrial products.
At the same time, Norway imported more than NOK 41 billion in goods from the United Kingdom, with industrial machines, electric vehicles and medicines accounting for the majority.
These products are important to Norwegian consumers and Norwegian economic growth.
But this free trade agreement is about more than trade in goods.
We have worked hard to establish a free trade agreement that covers the full spectrum of economic cooperation with the UK.
Every year Norway sells services to the United Kingdom valued at NOK 40 billion.
The UK is among the largest single markets for Norwegian shipping, engineering and financial services.
During the negotiations, we have also done our best to ensure that British companies can continue their operations in Norway.
British companies and investors have direct investments of over NOK 100 billion in Norway.
By finalising this agreement, we make sure Norway will remain an attractive country in which to invest and do business.
Our goal in the negotiations has been to ensure that Norwegian companies have access to the UK market on an equal footing with EU companies.
That means achieving the same terms for Norway and the EU with regard to trade in services and investments, public procurement, food safety and technical barriers to trading in goods.
And we have succeeded!
The free trade agreement we are presenting today is just as good, and in some areas even better, than the agreement between the EU and the UK.
This agreement ensures that Norway still has the ability to maintain and compete for market shares in one of our most important export markets.
We achieve greater predictability for Norwegian exporters, service providers and investors.
This free trade agreement provides a framework that puts Norwegian companies on a par with EU companies.
It does not completely replace the arrangements we had with the UK under the EEA agreement.
That is important to keep in mind.
A free trade agreement, no matter how beneficial, will never be able to replace the EEA Agreement.
The free trade agreement does not provide common rules or facilitate fully seamless trading activity.
And new trade barriers will inevitably arise between Norway and the UK, because we are losing the ever-evolving shared rulebook that underlies the EEA Agreement.
Such barriers will have to be resolved on the fly.
But: We can work it out!
Let me share with you some of key examples of what we have achieved.
First, Norwegian exporters will be subject to the same customs procedures as EU exporters.
In practice this means our companies will not face more burdensome procedures when trading with the UK, and our companies will compete on the same terms as their European counterparts.
Efficient border control practices will ensure that goods do not get stuck at the border.
This is especially important for the Norwegian seafood sector, which exports fresh, high-quality products that must get to market quickly.
Second, Norwegian shipowners and seamen will still have the ability to carry out international and maritime transport services in the UK without restrictions and on non-discriminatory terms.
The free trade agreement therefore provides predictability for the Norwegian shipping industry.
The agreement also secures freedom of establishment in the UK for all Norwegian financial service providers, while also entitling Norwegian insurance companies not established in the UK to provide reinsurance and marine insurance there.
Third, in a first for agreements outside of the single market, it will allow Norwegians to use their mobile phones while in the UK – roaming, as it is called – without incurring major extra costs.
Fourth, we have achieved an excellent result with regard to public procurement.
The new agreement gives Norwegian contractors greater access to public procurements in the UK than is provided under the free trade agreement between the EU and the UK.
And fifth: individuals educated in the UK in professions that are regulated in Norway, such as dentists, electricians and lawyers, are entitled to have their UK qualifications approved when seeking to practise the same profession in Norway.
That is a benefit for the individual worker.
It is likewise an advantage for Norwegian companies that provide services in the UK, as their employees may be permitted to practise regulated professions in the UK.
In this area, our agreement is more comprehensive than the one between the UK and the EU.
These are just a few examples.
Last year Norway exported fish and seafood worth more than NOK 6 billion to the UK.
The United Kingdom is the third largest export market for Norwegian seafood measured by volume, and the fifth largest measured by value.
It is therefore of major significance that we have obtained market access for Norwegian seafood that is just as good as what we had under the EEA Agreement, and in some areas better.
The new agreement ensures continued preferential duty rates for seafood.
It also ensures that Norwegian seafood companies will enjoy tariff-free market access for certain key seafood products.
In addition, the agreement ensures that Norwegian pharmaceutical companies will be treated on a par with EU-based producers.
And there will also be more liberal rules of origin than today, making it easier to obtain duty-free access for Norwegian exporters to the UK.
The new agreement also addresses the need for protection in the agricultural sector.
Norway has given the UK 26 quotas, but quotas have not been given for beef or for lamb and mutton.
The UK receives market access to Norway equivalent to what it enjoyed under the EEA Agreement.
And the quotas granted to the UK are quotas it already had access to under the EEA Agreement.
This means, among other things, there will be no increase in cheese exports from the UK to Norway at present.
The UK has also established import quotas from Norway for cheese, flowers and whey products.
General tariff reductions on unprocessed and processed agricultural products will in large part be extended.
For the first time, we have also managed to negotiate a chapter in a free trade agreement specifically dedicated to addressing the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises.
This increases predictability and provides these companies with a stable operating environment and market access in a number of important areas.
Without an agreement, many Norwegian companies would have risked missing out on public procurement contracts, among other things.
Such access has now been ensured.
For Norwegian industrial concerns, continued tariff-free access to the UK for Norwegian industrial goods is of particular importance.
It was crucial to include such access in the agreement to enable Norwegian companies to compete on an level playing field with UK companies and EU competitors.
This will be essential for promoting value creation and growth opportunities in the Norwegian economy.
The fact that we have negotiated the most ambitious and comprehensive environmental and climate commitments ever to be included in a free trade agreement is also good news for Norwegian industry.
Norwegian industrial companies are well equipped to take advantage of the opportunities emerging in the global transition to a greener economy.
This agreement secures access to the largest wind power market in Europe.
Major UK investment in other green technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, batteries and hydrogen, will also offer major opportunities for Norwegian industry.
Now that the UK has withdrawn from the EU, a free trade agreement is the most important tool we have for providing the business community, workers and students with a predictable framework, freedom and opportunity.
Today we are delighted that our ties with the UK have been strengthened.
I now encourage Norwegian companies to take advantage of the opportunities and the predictability this agreement provides in a market that is crucial for Norwegian exports and Norway’s economy as a whole.