When Trade and Industry minister Monica Mæland meets the British International Trades Minister Liam Fox on Wednesday, the startgun for what could be a very long process of negotiations has been fired.
Mæland gets the honour of being the first Norwegian minister to meet the British government after Theresa May took over as prime minister.
Mæland’s counterpart has only just begun on the overwhelming task of negotiating new free trade agreements for the British. The whole world is now knocking on his door, including both ‘Lilliput countires’ as well as global heavyweights. But equally for all of them is that they will probably have to wait years before any answers are clear.
EEA assures us for a while
In the coming years Norway is assured through the EEA Agreement, Mæland points out. This, however, only applies as long as the United Kingdom is still a member of the EU.
– I expect that we will have a good discussion around common interests and goals and our bilateral economic relationship, and that we can establish a dialogue with Britain on how to safeguard our common interests and good cooperation in the years to come, says Mæland ahead of the meeting. She will now try to find constructive solutions with the British.
– My main task is to safeguard Norwegian interests, which is to maintain most of today’s free movement of goods, services, capital and people between Norway and the UK, says Mæland.
Could take years
Which trade relations Norway could have with the UK after Brexit, is entirely dependent on what agreement the British advocates with the EU.
First, Britain will formally initiate the withdrawal process by notifying the EU. This will be early next year according to Prime Minister May, but potentially it can also happen a good deal later.
When the formal process is underway, the British has got two years to negotiate with the EU. But experience shows that it typically takes much longer than two years to negotiate such a large and complex trade deal which the EU and the UK will have to get in place.
Therefore , several experts think that the British would go in for a transitional agreement first, then use the time they need to negotiate permanent solutions.
Over 200 companies
Norway and Great Britain trade for around 300 billion kroner with each other each year per today. Over 200 Norwegian companies are established in the country, which is the biggest importer of Norwegian oil and gas and the third largest market for seafood.
How high up Norway comes on Britain’s priority list, remains yet to be seen.
Meanwhile, Norway and others have signaled that it may be difficult to land an agreement with the British before we know more about what the new relationship between Britain and the EU will look like. A large analysis is now underway in our ministries to find out what Brexit will mean for Norway.
The British government has in turn been sparing with signals, but has assured everyone that it wants good relations with European countries, and that the British are still advocating free trade.
Source: NTB scanpix / Norway Today