KONGSBERG, Norway (Reuters) - Norway will not negotiate any separate trade deals with Britain until London has agreed the terms of how it will leave the European Union with Brussels, the Norwegian Prime Minister told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Nordic country is not an EU member but pays hundreds of millions of euros to access the European internal market. It has often been touted by referendum campaigners as a potential model for Britain to follow.
The comments also underline the possible difficulties Britain may have in negotiating bilateral trade agreements when it leaves the EU.
“There won’t be any bilateral agreements between Norway and Britain before a solution is in place with the EU,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in an interview on the margins of a conference.
“The deal they (the British) get will go a long way to clarify what kind of relationship they will have with EEA countries,” she said, referring to the members of the European Economic Area - the EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Britain is Norway’s third-biggest destination for goods produced by its mainland economy, which excludes the volatile oil and shipping sector, with an eight-percent share.
Mainland exports are primarily seafood, including salmon, but the country of 5.2 million is also a major gas supplier to Britain and its $860-billion wealth fund, the world’s largest, is a major foreign investor.
Since the result of the referendum in Britain, the Norwegian government has been weighing its options to see what is best for the Nordic country’s national interests, the prime minister said.
“I don’t think it would be difficult to reach a deal to sell our fish,” she said, adding that nor did she anticipate problems in negotiating contracts for Norwegian gas.
But there could be difficulties if Britain wanted to join the European Free Trade Association, which includes Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, she said. The EFTA countries count 14 million inhabitants while Britain counts 65 million.
“It would change the balance of power in EFTA,” said Solberg. “Britain has other vital interests than Norway when it comes to negotiating free trade deals with other countries. And this is what we use EFTA for.”
“We have strategic interests on fish, while Britain’s and Switzerland’s strategic interests are more about finance and other sectors.”
Writing by Gwladys Fouche