Tariffs cut on cheese, pork and poultry in UK-Norway trade deal

The UK on Friday agreed the terms of a trade deal with Norway and other members of the European Economic Area that will cut tariffs on cheese, pork and poultry and liberalise digital services.

The agreement in principle was welcomed in London and Oslo, although the new trading terms are inferior to those when the UK was a member of the EU’s single market. Trade between the UK and the EEA members was worth £22bn in 2020, of which £20bn was with Norway.

Liz Truss, the UK’s international trade secretary, said: “Today’s deal will be a major boost for our trade with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, growing an economic relationship already worth £21.6bn, while supporting jobs and prosperity in all four nations at home.”

Four varieties of UK cheese: two types of cheddar, Wensleydale and traditional Welsh Caerphilly cheeses will be exempt from Norway’s tariffs on all foreign cheeses, which are currently as high as 277 per cent. The agreement will also see the recognition of UK professional qualifications in the EEA. The Department for International Trade said reduced tariffs on fish would support 18,000 jobs in the processing sector.

Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think-tank, described the UK-EEA deal as “necessary” and a “good thing” but said its success depended on the baseline of measurement.

“If you are comparing it to normal free trade agreements, then it is certainly true that the deal has raised the bar in some areas, for example mutual recognition of professional qualifications,” he said. 

“But if you are comparing the new trade deal to the pre-Brexit relationship, with both the UK and the EEA members in the single market, then the new deal doesn’t come close to offering the same levels of economic access and benefits.”

Norway’s government said the deal was not as good as the previous agreement with the UK but was still the most comprehensive trade accord Oslo had entered into with a single country.

“A free trade agreement can never be better than the EEA agreement [with the EU],” trade and industry minister Iselin Nybo told a press conference in Oslo on Friday.

Erna Solberg, Norway’s prime minister, added that two aspects of the deal were still problematic: that rules changes are not “dynamic”, as they are with Oslo’s deal with the EU, meaning they are automatically updated if they are changed; and veterinary rules at the border will lead to extra costs for some companies.

“A trade deal is about give and take,” she stressed, pointing to Norway gaining better access in the UK for some seafood products while London won some small concessions on agriculture.

But in an election year in Norway in which the centre-right government trails the centre-left opposition that includes a large party popular with farmers, Oslo refused to give big concessions on beef and cheese, two areas where it has been protectionist with tariffs on foreign goods of close to 300 per cent.

The UK is Norway’s biggest trading partner thanks largely to exports of natural gas, and Oslo — through the state-controlled company Equinor — is planning a large clean hydrogen project in north-east England.

Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, Iceland’s foreign minister, hailed the agreement as one of his main priorities and said it would “be crucial for both Icelandic companies and consumers”. He underscored that for the first time a trade agreement signed by Iceland would include a section on equality and the empowerment of women in business.

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