NORWEGIAN prime minister Erna Solberg is this weekend leading a four-day trade mission to China with one of the main goals being to restart normal seafood trading relations between the two countries. She is joined by her foreign minister, Børge Brende.
Norway normalised political contact with China in December after a six-year freeze, sparked when the Nobel Peace Prize went to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and received Norwegian support.
As a result of the dispute, seafood exports from Norway plunged. Exporters are now hoping Solberg can restore the seafood sector to the pre-2010 position when Norwegian salmon accounted for much of the market.
The industry thinks that if the visit goes well annual seafood exports could increase tenfold to two billion kroners over the next few years.
Even though the visit has been described as ‘drowning in fish’, not everyone among the 240 industrial delegates is seafood related. Many are from the oil and energy industry.
This will be the first visit to China by a Norwegian prime minister for at least a decade. Solberg said before leaving: ‘I am very pleased that we are now normalising our political and diplomatic relations with China.
‘The visit reflects the fact that both countries wish to re-establish our long-standing, broad and forward looking cooperation.
‘Direct contact with the Chinese leadership is important to ensure a robust, predictable relationship based on mutual interests, trust and understanding.’
However, political opponents and some newspapers have criticised Solberg’s refusal to raise human rights with China during her visit.
She added: ‘China is our largest trading partner in Asia. The normalisation of our relations will create major opportunities for Norwegian businesses and for job creation. We also hope to resume negotiations on a free trade agreement with China.’
The business delegation is being organised by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries in co-operation with Innovation Norway.