Norway offers to roll over UK trade agreements after Brexit

Norway’s government has signalled its co-operation with British wishes to roll over trade arrangements with non-EU countries in the transition phase after Brexit.

The UK’s tariff-free trade in goods with Norway and scores of other non-EU countries is ensured by EU treaty arrangements, which for Britain will end with Brexit in March 2019. But Britain wants those agreements to continue to apply as if it were still an EU member state during its post-Brexit transition, provisionally agreed to last until the end of 2020.

Brussels has agreed to notify third countries such as Norway of trade arrangements being “rolled over” for the transition, but many trade experts fear that trade partners will demand concessions in return.

However, Siv Jensen, Norway’s finance minister, has told the Financial Times that Oslo had “no objections to a transition period” with “flexible solutions”.

Norway participates in the single market through its membership of the European Economic Area but is not in the EU’s customs union.

In a speech during a visit to London, Ms Jensen warned against “regulatory arbitrage” after Brexit and said Norway and other countries neighbouring the UK had “an interest in the UK continuing to endorse the idea of common rules and a level playing field”.

An international system of financial rules, Ms Jensen insisted, had “served UK interests”, adding that Britain and London had “a special interest in being regulated like their neighbouring countries” to “make it easier . . . to operate across borders”.

She recognised that Norway’s form of association with the EU — which gives it full single market participation at the price of accepting all its rules — is “obviously not” a model for the UK, given the red lines laid down by the British government. She declined to say whether Norway would welcome a UK re-entry into the European Free Trade Association, which would allow but not require joining the EEA.

Besides Norway, Efta includes Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein (but not the EU). The EEA is made up of the EU countries and the three Efta countries — all except Switzerland — that have chosen to join it.

Ms Jensen dismissed any suggestion that Brexit, and the UK’s eventual new trading relations with the EU, might make Norway follow suit. Emphasising the value of harmonised rules, she told the FT that “the EEA agreement serves our interests well. Our relationship with Europe is not changing as a result of Brexit.”

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