Norway hikes import tariffs on cheese and meat
The Norwegian government has announced that it will raise import tariffs on meats and cheeses in a move that aims to boost income for its own farmers.
The plan will affect hard cheeses, beef steaks and fillets, and lamb carcasses.
Norway’s minister for agriculture and food, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, said the changes, to take effect from 1 January 2013, were necessary to strengthen local food production.
He claimed that the change would not make it more expensive or difficult to buy imported cheeses in Norway. However, the import toll has angered the European Union and raised concerns among Swedish and Danish producers.
János Herman, the EU’s ambassador to Norway, told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that it was a clear breach of Article 19 of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement renegotiated in 2000. Mr Herman said the Norwegian government’s proposal was counter to the intention of the agreement.
Denmark’s trade minister, Pia Olsen Dyhr, has also slammed Norway’s hike in import tariffs.
“It’s going to be expensive for all of us,” she told Norwegian daily newspaper Nationen.
She said not only would Norwegian consumers have less to choose from in meat and cheese products, it would be a costly exercise for European agricultural and dairy producers.
According to various news reports, the massive tariff hike on imported hard cheeses may equate to a tax of 277 per cent of their value.
Some commentators are raising the prospect of a whole lot of small farm shops growing in number in Sweden alongside the border with Norway. Similar experiences have occurred elsewhere when taxes and tariffs have lifted domestic prices. In the 1980s and 1990s UK buyers were undertaking short shopping expeditions to Calais, France for cheaper alcohol.
Already, according to Statistics Norway figures, five per cent of Norwegians’ total grocery spend now goes to Sweden. This is because the price differences between Norway and Sweden for popular goods like alcohol, chocolate and confectionary are already high.
The Norwegian government move comes despite Norway being a foundation member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and despite WTO rules that discourage protectionism in international trade.
The WTO secretariat in a recent report portrayed Norway’s agricultural policies and related trade policy as ‘extreme.’ However, a Norwegian government representative on 9 October 2012 told a forum of WTO members that the Norwegian policies were defensible because:
“Our policies do not unnecessarily disadvantage our trading partners in general, and our developing country trading partners in particular. Our subsidies are aimed at sustaining domestic production for the Norwegian market, and not to give our producers a competitive advantage in international markets.”