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Britain announced Friday a free-trade agreement with three European countries — major fishing neighbour Norway as well as Iceland and Liechtenstein — in its latest move to boost trade ties post-Brexit.
The deal, agreed in principle and which builds on “an economic relationship already worth £21.6 billion ($30 billion, 25 billion euros)”, will slash tariffs on British food products, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said.
Britain formally left the European Union in January 2020 after nearly five decades of membership, and quit its single market and customs union at the start of this year.
Since then, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has replicated or rolled over existing trade agreements with the bloc and several countries, vowing that they will be more advantageous than those negotiated by the EU.
London is currently in advanced trade deal discussions with Australia and has held early talks with India, New Zealand and the United States.
Talks are also due to begin soon with Canada and Mexico.
Trade between non-EU member Norway and Britain, separated by the North Sea and key fishing spots, amounted to £20.4 billion last year.
Access to Britain’s rich fishing waters was a major sticking point in post-Brexit talks with the EU.
“Reduced import tariffs on shrimps, prawns and haddock will reduce costs for UK fish processing, helping support some 18,000 jobs in that industry in Scotland” and northern England, said Friday’s statement.
The agreement also “significantly cuts tariffs as high as 277 percent” for exports of some British cheeses to Norway.
“There are also tariff reductions and quotas on pork, poultry and other goods. UK wines and spirits including Scotch Whisky will also now be recognised in Norway and Iceland,” the statement added.
Exports to the three non-EU countries will meanwhile be done without the need for any paperwork.
“All documents, contracts and signatures can be electronic, allowing goods to move seamlessly across borders and saving businesses time and money,” the statement said.
Norway meanwhile stressed that the deal would not lead to an increased quotas for British beef and cheeses, reassuring the country’s farmers as the centre-right government trails in the polls ahead of legislative elections in September.
Britain is Norway’s biggest trading partner after the EU, accounting for 22 percent of its exports, including natural gas and fish.
Friday’s agreement also calls for caps on the charges mobile operators are allowed to charge each other for international mobile roaming, and mutual recognition of professional qualifications, such as nurses, lawyers and vets.
– Second-best option –
Prior to Brexit, Britain, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein had signed a temporary agreement enabling them to continue to trade goods freely pending a broader, permanent agreement.
Speaking to reporters in Oslo, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg hailed the new deal as “the biggest free trade agreement we’ve ever had.”
Solberg — a pro-European in a country that has twice rejected EU membership — noted nonetheless that “a free trade agreement will never be as good as the European Economic Area.”
With Brexit, Britain also quit the EEA, which allows for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital between the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
“A free trade agreement means more bureaucracy and added costs for businesses and citizens, and is less dynamic than what we have in the EEA,” Solberg said.
“The agreement doesn’t eliminate all the obstacles to trade either. Some are not resolved,” she added.
The agreement must still be approved by the Norwegian parliament, where Solberg’s government is in the minority.
Meanwhile in Reykjavik, Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson hailed the deal as “a new era in the relationship between the countries”.
“The United Kingdom remains one of Iceland’s most important export markets”, he said, adding that “the conclusion of an agreement with the United Kingdom was vital.”