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Annual US-Norway Trade Talks – Maximizing the Potential for Success


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Annual US-Norway Trade Talks – Maximizing the Potential for Success

AmCham

Category: AmCham Norway

–15 US-Norway trade issues to be examined/resolved

–One-half day of negotiations in Washington DC (alternates between Oslo and DC each year

–9 Norwegian government representatives

–19 US government representatives

Thus the stage was set for the annual US-Norway Informal Commercial Exchange (ICE talks) in early June. First organized in 2003 by then US Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas, the ICE talks represent a unique opportunity for Norway and the US to resolve their commercial differences simply – that is, without drawn-out international legal wrangling. Unfortunately for the private industry players on the ICE sidelines, much of the initial optimism for the forum’s ability to get trade disputes resolved has thawed.

For Scandinavian context, and compared to the US-Norway talks, the US and Sweden have approximately half of the number of issues to address during their annual talks. More enviable yet, the US and Denmark do not have ICE talks as there aren’t enough trade disputes to warrant them.

So why are there so many commercial challenges between the US and Norway?

For starters, US and Norwegian companies are increasingly good at raising the red flag when commercial obstacles are deemed to be symptomatic of broader policy anomalies. Along with our partners, AmCham works with these companies to gather and relay commercial obstacle specifics. Most of the identified obstacles are then included or updated on the annual ICE talk agenda. The current 15 issues can be boiled down to:

–Intellectual Property (3)

–Market access (protectionism) (3)

–Government tender processes (3)

–International standards adherence (3)

–Taxation (2)

–Border security (1)

The repeating themes are the most problematic. Within healthcare and media, Norway needs to make serious efforts to abide by international IP norms. Within seafood and shipping, the US needs to grant reasonable access to Norwegian products and innovation. If these fundamental issues were to be adequately addressed by both governments, we wouldn’t need ICE talks at all. Delegation leaders Rikke Lind, State Secretary at the Trade Ministry, and Juan Verde, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Commerce Department, could happily redirect their substantial resources toward ground-breaking, proactive endeavors – like a US-Norway Free Trade Agreement – instead of reactively discussing many of the same trade disputes every summer.

Why do so many issues remain on the ICE talk agenda year after year?

Simply put – lack of focus, energy and will. Once legitimate commercial obstacles are identified and reported, private sector follow-up with responsible government officials is timid or non-existent. In Norway, where everybody knows everybody, corporate managers often prioritize cordial relationships with government representatives over maximizing efforts to tear down unjustified commercial barriers. In the US, Norwegian business interests are often unwilling to engage in sustained, potentially costly efforts to right commercial barrier wrongs.

The private sector, however, does not bare all blame for mired US-Norway trade negotiations. AmCham has witnessed several generations of ICE talk government negotiators come and go. Though some staff turnover is a natural process in any organization, negotiation continuity – on issues that can in the best circumstances take years to resolve – has become a problem. Negotiators that know they will be reassigned or promoted in a couple years, regardless of success, are more likely to promise more than their domestic political realities will allow. They are less likely to do the hard work of convincing key decision makers within their own governments as to why compromises should be made.

Government representatives, unsurprisingly and again regardless of actual negotiation success, also like positive media attention. The Norwegian delegation’s contribution to the NRK television news piece focusing on relatively minor trade negotiation topics like pilot underwear and Segways (see http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/indeks/267131/) is a good case-in-point. Such trivializing of serious trade barrier negotiations doesn’t help open markets, save jobs or encourage innovation.

We need more ICE

In the final analysis, the US and Norway still need ICE talks. But the talks need to bear fruit for the many companies that are currently unable to hire, build facilities, or invest in modern technologies across the Atlantic as a direct result of today’s commercial barriers. Therefore, AmCham strongly encourages:

–More government negotiator interaction with those negatively impacted in the private sector. The rash of government/company meetings that take place in the days immediately prior to the ICE talks should be a year-round occurrence.

–Better annual meeting follow-up between negotiation delegations through, for example, bimonthly video-conferencing (already attempted but not yet regular) and specialist delegation exchanges.

–Much more detailed, informed negotiations during the annual summit. This means involving more issue experts and spending more than an average of 15 minutes per issue.

–A sense of urgency. At the forefront of negotiator minds should be the understanding that delays in demolishing trade barriers costs both countries dearly.

Source: AmCham Norway

Published: September 22, 2019