Norwegian businesses are meeting closed doors in China following last year’s Nobel Peace Prize award to dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Minister of Trade and Industry Trond Giske’s trade optimism has become a body floating down a Chinese river of backlash. China had already warned giving the prize to Mr Xiaobo would damage relations between the two countries.
In October last year, officials cancelled several meetings with Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, whilst she was on a trip Shanghai and Beijing.
There were hopes Norway would be the first European country to negotiate a free trade agreement with China, but talks were subsequently put on ice indefinitely. However, seemingly unperturbed, Minister Giske remarked at the time he believed it would be “business as usual”.
Almost three months have passed since December’s Nobel ceremony, and a Chinese go-slow has hit the fish export industry. Business relations are far from normal.
“We cannot get our goods into the country as easily as we used to. Authorities put the fish in quarantine for longer, and these are fresh products,” Henning K Beltestad, fish exporters Lerøy Seafood Group’s CEO tells Aftenposten.
China imported and consumed an estimated 800 million kroner’s worth of farmed fish products in 2009, and has become Norway’s most important Asian market. Fish exports increased by 50 percent last year, but this could be in jeopardy.
Berge Andersen, business lawyer and China specialist at Wikborg Rein, one of Norway’s largest firms, believes the government should intervene.
“In China, politics and business go slightly hand-in-hand, and relations between it and Norway are icy. I believe everyone hoped this would pass, but we must realise it’s not ‘business as usual’ anymore. Believing it is so is, at best, is a little naïve,” he says.