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Sino-Norwegian relations back on track

The second half of October saw the first official Norwegian state visit to China since 1997, with their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja. The delegation, led by Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, and Minister of Trade and Industries, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, also included 320 delegates from various industries and received a warm welcome by Chinese officials. Simonsen Vogt Wiig was represented by our Singapore Office Head, Torgeir Willumsen.

His Majesty King Harald took the opportunity to extend an invitation to President Xi Jinping to visit Norway, something which was immediately accepted by the President. This was well received by all Norwegian commentators who took this as a sign that Sino-Norwegian ties are warm and friendly.

However, things have not been nearly as pleasant in the recent years. Following the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Liu Xiabo in 2010, Chinese officials immediately froze their interaction with their Norwegian counterparties and a number of diplomatic efforts were put on hold or cancelled. Very notably Norway was on track for being the first European country to enter into a free trade agreement with China, something was put on hold in 2010 (Norway was later surpassed by Iceland which concluded a free trade agreement with China in 2013).

In December 2016, however, diplomatic relations were again resumed as a joint statement by China and Norway was issued to this effect. Since then things have been moving forward with Norwegian interests very keen to make up for the time “lost” since 2010. A substantial increase in Norwegian seafood exports to China has coincided with a considerable increase of inbound Chinese tourists to Norway, both good symbols of the improved relations.

During the Norwegian state visit to China, a number of the speakers and participants highlighted the many opportunities for businesses in the two countries. Oil & Gas, fisheries and the maritime industry are obvious examples, but also technology and sustainability were heavily emphasized. Whereas Norwegian businesses typically look to China as a market for their products or a good manufacturing hub, Chinese businesses turn to Norway to acquire technology and know-how for use in their business ventures at home and abroad. However, there are exceptions to this starting point where for instance Norwegian entrepreneurs have decided to set up their business in China, or Chinese construction companies that have become very active in the Norwegian market.

Encouragingly for future business opportunities the free trade agreement negotiations are moving forward. Although the Minister of Trade and Industries, Mr. Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, has announced that no free trade agreement will be concluded within 2018, there is hope that the ongoing so-called “trade war” may give a boost to bilateral efforts by countries such as Norway to stem the tide. In any event it is safe to say that Sino-Norwegian relations are finally back on track and that Norwegian businesses will increase their efforts in relation to China going forward.