Norway’s prosperity and economic growth are dependent on good framework conditions for trade with other countries. Norway has therefore actively participated in the development of a binding set of international trade rules, and was one of the 23 states that established the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947. These international rules were further strengthened and extended when GATT became the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995. Today, the WTO is a global organisation, with approximately 150 member countries and a number of other countries seeking membership.
The WTO rules protect countries against discrimination, protectionism and domination by the strongest in world trade, and have facilitated global growth and development. Tariffs on industrial products have been drastically reduced over the past 50 years, and there are now WTO agreements covering trade in agricultural products and in services (GATS), and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks and copyright (TRIPS). Its dispute settlement system gives the WTO teeth, and allows the organisation to enforce their rights.
However, substantial barriers to trade still exist in a number of areas. At the 2001 WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, the member countries decided to start a new round of negotiations, with the aim of further reducing barriers to trade. It was agreed that particular attention should be paid to the needs of developing countries.
Norwegian industrial products, not least fish exports, continue to come up against significant tariff barriers in many markets. In the current round of negotiations, Norway’s particular aim is to secure a reduction in tariffs on fish and fish products, and processed products in particular.
Norway exported services worth about NOK 176 billion in 2004, which is approximately 24 per cent of its total export earnings. Improved access to the markets for shipping and other maritime services, energy services, telecommunications services and maritime insurance is particularly important for Norway. Norway focuses primarily on commercial services that give significant support to other economic activities. At the same time, Norway opposes applying pressure to open up markets in key public services sectors and opposes the imposition of severe negotiation requirements on the least developed countries.
The use of protective measures and anti-dumping duties is a growing problem, and can undermine market access. Norwegian products, especially farmed fish, are continually being affected by such measures in both the USA and the EU. Norway is therefore making efforts within the WTO to make it more difficult to adopt such measures for protectionist purposes.
Norway wishes to maintain a vigorous national agricultural sector, to safeguard food security, rural settlement patterns, and a living cultural landscape. The high level of costs means that Norway is dependent on maintaining both a certain level of tariff protection and the option to give support to agriculture. On the other hand, agricultural exports are very important for many countries, not least for developing countries. The WTO members have committed themselves to liberalising trade in agricultural products by reducing levels of tariffs and support schemes. However, it has been difficult to reach agreement on how this should be done.
Norway has a strong interest in contributing to greater global prosperity. More than three-quarters of the 150 WTO member countries are developing countries, and external trade is a very important instrument for increasing their earnings and laying foundations for stronger economic growth. Norway has therefore emphasised the need to safeguard the special needs of developing countries in its WTO activities.
Norway welcomed the result of the December 2005 WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, at which several decisions of importance to developing (and particularly the least developed) countries were taken, and plans aimed at concluding negotiations in the Doha round by the end of 2006 were prepared. Norway will seek, through constructive contributions, to ensure that the Doha round of negotiations leads to a balanced result that safeguards the interests of all its members.