Kristian Rouz — After the UK's separation from the European Union, the proposed Norwegian-British trade deal might take more time to be concluded than initially planned, the Norwegian government said. Aimed at improving bilateral relations as both parties find themselves in a similar situation economically and politically on the European continent, the trade deal could boost exchange in goods and services between the two economies situated on the opposing coasts on the North Sea. However, Norway, a prominent exporter of natural gas into the UK, is intending to use its position as leverage in the negotiations seeking more favorable conditions.
The Minister of European Affairs and Minister for Nordic Cooperation Elisabeth Aspaker said the negotiations with her colleagues in London are scheduled to commence shortly, having noted the talks with Norway are expected to be a high priority matter for the UK.
"We want to maintain at least as near a relationship with Britain as we have today," Aspaker commented on the possible post-Brexit developments in bilateral relations during a meeting with business and trade union officials. "Our goal is to have a well-functioning solution with Britain in place as soon as possible… We must be prepared to the fact that it could take a long time and that it may not be in place the moment Britain leaves the EU."
Norwegian exports to the UK, aside of natural gas, include seafood, primarily salmon. Norway supplies roughly 40pc of all natural gas used in the UK, whilst the Norwegian government-controlled wealth fund, backed by the oil and natural gas revenues, is a prominent foreign investor in Albion.
"We're just not any old trading partner," Aspaker said. "We have some special links between our two countries that will probably be to our advantage as the queue forms for negotiations."
Norway, however, has to pay hundreds of millions in euros for the access to the EU's internal market. EFTA, however, is a mechanism easing this burden somewhat and if the UK joins EFTA, it could greatly reduce the expenses associated with the access of British goods and services to the EU market. EFTA member states exercise their trade with the EU via the European Economic Area framework.
Norway is currently the largest economy within EFTA, largely determining the lion's share of the group's internal agenda. The UK's accession to EFTA could dramatically shift the balance of power within the group, potentially setting an alternative integration model for Europe. Also, as the UK controls significant oil and gas resources in the North Sea, as does Norway, EFTA could become increasingly powerful economically on the international scale, given the City of London's status as the world's largest hub for global finance.
However, it is yet unclear whether Norway is ready to welcome the UK into EFTA, and the sentiment in Westminster does not seem to be decided also.
"We are in a phase where we have no answers, only a lot of questions," Aspaker said. "We have to do our homework to find out what Norway's interest are and how we should prepare ourselves as well as possible for the negotiations."
By having mentioned the "long time" the British-Norwegian negotiations might take, Aspaker simply emphasized the greater concessions Norway is expecting from London in exchange for the UK's inevitable dominance in the Northern European affairs.