Business as usual: Norway and the UK

Speech by Minister of Trade and Industry Torbjørn Røe Isaksen to the Norwegian-British Chamber of Commerce in Oslo, 5 September 2018.

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Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Dear friends from the UK and Norway.

If you go into a pub in London, or anywhere in the UK,

and the bar and the floor are built of wood - ask when it was built.

If the answer is the seventeen hundreds, 

they are most likely made by "Christiania deels" – long quilt-free pine plank from South-Eastern Norway.

In the seventeen hundreds, 

we had 80 percent of the wood market in the UK!

This is only one of countless – and still living – proofs of,

one of Norway's possibly longest-standing foreign relations:

Our close relationship to Great Britain.

I would like to thank the NBCC for hosting this event,

and bringing us together here today.

Like you have done for more than a century.

You have done an important job for trade between our two countries.

And I am sure you will continue to do so. Your work is important.

Because Britain has been, still is, and will continue to be, important for us.

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The UK is one of our single biggest trading partners. 

Exports to the UK account for around one 5th of Norway's total exports of goods and services.

Oil and gas are of course the main exports.

The Langeled pipeline from Nyhamna in Norway to Easington in the UK can supply 20 per cent of UKs total gas demand.

We also have a strong seafood position in the United Kingdom.

Especially for cod and haddock – for your fish & chips.

Overall, the UK was the 5th most important single market for Norwegian seafood last year.

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The UK-Norwegian relationship covers almost all areas.

At sea, on land, and in the air.

Investment, research, student exchanges - and trade.

Let me be absolutely clear about it: Brexit is not going to change that.

Let me also be honest about it:

In very few cases, there are any winners in a divorce.

Brexit will have the biggest implications for Britain, of course

– but it will also have consequences for Norway.

For our businesses, and our jobs.

We do not know yet for whom or how many.

And that creates uncertainty and worries for our business community – and for me.

Because so far, for Norway, Brexit has probably done more for employment in the public sector, than in the private sector.

And it is my responsibility, as Minister of trade and industry,

to ensure the best possible outcome for our future trade.

I can assure you that our entire government takes this task very seriously.

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However, this is the decision of the British people.

And as the British, we are determined to make the best of it.

We want to continue our close and fruitful cooperation with the UK.

We will continue to provide cod and haddock for your fish & chips,

we will continue to send Norwegian football fans over to eat it,

and we will continue to be a reliable supplier of oil and gas.

In short: We want business as usual.

Therefore, we hold regular talks with both the EU and the UK about the process and the ongoing negotiations.

Our priority is to ensure a smooth transition to the next phase – also for Norway.

It is vital for us that we have the best possible agreements and post-Brexit rules in place – before Brexit goes through.

At the same time, we will preserve the integrity of the EEA agreement and Norway's other agreements with the EU.  

It is vital that these agreements protect the rights of the 20 000 Norwegian citizens in the UK – and the 14 500 UK citizens in Norway.

And we were very pleased when Prime Minister May confirmed that the UK will offer Norwegian citizens the same rights as citizens from EU countries.

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Dear friends!

Trade has tied the world's nations together through history.

It has made cooperation more profitable than conflict.

And it has created great wealth and prosperity.

Today, the value of world trade is eight times higher than in 1970.

It has doubled three times!

It is fair to say that free trade has served Norway and the UK well.  

It is equally fair to say that the UK was one of the main architects behind the world order of free trade that has served us all so well.

It is no coincidence that my favorite British politician is Sir Robert Peel:

Not only because "Bobby" created modern policing and the modern Conservative party – but most of all because his repeal of the Corn Laws was an early, but crucial step in building our modern world order.

The recent introduction of protectionist measures may lead to a negative spiral with increasing trade barriers from several countries.

I want to be very clear about this: 

Norway has a strong commitment to free trade.

And to international cooperation and peace.

For Norway, it is vital:

to hold the flag high for multilateral cooperation such as the WTO,

to protect and nourish the EEA agreement,

and to work day and night to enter free trade agreements.

All over the world.

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To conclude;

Norway's ambition is to keep doing business in the UK,

to increase Norwegian business activity in the UK,

and to increase UK business activity in Norway.

History has shown us that cooperation is a better strategy than protection.

So let us continue to cooperate.

I promise to do my part! And I am sure, you will all do yours.

Good luck, and thank you.

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