Norway is counting on its massive exports of natural gas to the U.K. to give it an advantage in talks as Britain struggles to extract itself from the European Union.
The U.K.’s so-called Brexit vote has not only thrown its relationship with the EU wide open but also called into question how it will continue trading with Norway, its North Sea neighbor outside the bloc on which it relies for almost 40 percent of its natural gas.
“We’re just not any old trading partner,” Norway’s EU Minister Elisabeth Vik Aspaker told Bloomberg after a press conference in Oslo on Wednesday. “We have some special links between our two countries that will probably be to our advantage as the queue forms for negotiations.”
As a member of the European Free Trade Association, Norway has had almost unencumbered trade with the EU and the U.K., which is also an important trade partner for fish products. Joining EFTA has been seen as one potential solution for the U.K., though doing so wouldn’t address its opposition to the free movement of people. EFTA members trade with the EU through the European Economic Area.
Norway has been reluctant to say whether it would welcome the U.K. in EFTA because doing so would shift the power balance in the group. Norway has adopted about 75 percent of the EU’s laws, yet has little say in how those laws are formulated. It also pays the bloc about 860 million euros ($954 million) a year for the privilege of accessing the internal market.
It’s still unclear what the U.K. wants, said Aspaker. Norway is working with the EU, its Nordic neighbors and the bigger powers on the continent to thrash out a plan, she said.
“We are in a phase where we have no answers, only a lot of questions,” she said. “We have to do our homework to find out what Norway’s interest are and how we should prepare ourselves as well as possible for the negotiations.”
U.K. policy makers are now looking at the first part of next year to start formal talks to leave the EU as Prime Minister Theresa May has delayed starting Britain’s exit as she puts together a team and prepares for tough negotiations.