Members of the European Parliament have accused Norway of illicitly protecting its meat sector under the guise of reforming its tariffs system.
Members of the EP’s committee on international trade said Oslo was increasing tariffs when shifting them from set values per amount of meat to percentage value ‘ad valorem’ tariffs. By indulging this diplomatic sleight, Norway was being protectionist and breaking world trade laws, argued MEPs.
The tariff changes are imminent. If Norway – the European Union’s (EU) fifth-largest trading partner – adopts these measures, they will come into effect in January 2013 as part of a new national budget. MEPs claimed Norway’s meat tariffs would hit 439% for lamb, five times the current duty. Meanwhile, tariffs for beef would increase twofold.
These are “draconian duties” with little cause as Norway is, in fact, experiencing economic growth, said Swedish Christian Democrat MEP Christofer Fjellner. Meanwhile, German Christian Democrat MEP Daniel Caspary commented: “This is obviously protectionism.”
Defending, Norway’s ambassador to the EU Atle Leikvoll said: “Norwegian agriculture needs an import regime that allows for sustainable domestic production.” He said the changes to the tax system are purely “administrative” and do not reflect a restrictive trade policy towards the EU.
The European Commission certainly was not convinced. “We consider these measures as not only being against the spirit of the EEA [European Economic Area] agreement [that links Norway to the EU], but also against the letter,” said Commission representative Luc Devigne, referring to the EEA provision that encourages liberalised agricultural trade.
But ambassador Leikvoll argued the general provisions of the EEA agreement do not cover agriculture, which is excluded, along with fish. Norway was still meeting its obligations outlined in the agreement regarding liberalised agricultural trade, which are always couched “within the framework of their respective agricultural policies”, he stressed.
He defended the fact Norway did not consult the EU about the tariffs, saying they were part of Norway’s budget, the process of which is confidential: “Preparations of the overall budget is one of the most contained, secret processes in most countries.”
He added the changes do not threaten Norway’s concessions to EU exporters for some agricultural products, including an annual tariff-free quota of 900 tonnes for beef.
Devigne has asked Norway to suspend these measures until the end of the year and said the EU would continue to challenge them: “We are certainly keeping legal recourse options open,” he noted. If Brussels thinks Norway is breaking the EEA, it could challenge the tariffs at the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) Court.