Openness to Foreign InvestmentGeneral Government Attitude
Norway welcomes foreign investment as a matter of policy and generally grants national treatment to foreign investors. Norwegian authorities encourage foreign investment particularly in the key offshore petroleum sector, mainland industry (e.g., high-tech and advanced areas), and in less developed regions such as northern Norway. The policy vis-a-vis third countries, including the United States, will likely continue to be governed by reciprocity principles and by bilateral and international agreements. The European Economic Area (EEA) free trade accord, which came into force for Norway in 1995, requires the country to apply principles of national treatment in certain areas where foreign investment was prohibited or restricted in the past.
While the Norwegian government officially endorses a level playing field for foreign investors, existing regulations, standards and practices often marginally favor Norwegian, Scandinavian and EEA investors, in that order. Norway's investment regime is generally based on the equal treatment principle, but national restrictions exist on activities and ownership in the fishing and maritime transport sectors (the chairman of a joint-stock fishing company, for example, must be a Norwegian citizen). According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), Norway is ranked close to the OECD average (but marginally more restrictive than the United States) with respect to restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI), with restrictions on foreign personnel a leading factor. Laws/Rules/Practices affecting Foreign Investment
As an EEA signatory, Norway continues to liberalize its foreign investment legislation to conform more closely to European Union (EU) standards. Current laws, rules, and practices follow below.Government Monopolies
Norway has traditionally barred foreign and domestic investors alike from investing in industries monopolized by the government, including postal services, railways, and the domestic production and retail sale of alcohol. In 2004, Norway slightly relaxed the restrictions, allowing foreign companies to bid on providing certain postal services (e.g., air express services between countries) and railway cargo services (notably between Norway and Sweden). The government may grant foreign investment in hydropower (though limited to 20 percent of equity), but rarely does so. Norway has fully opened the electricity distribution system to foreign participation, however, making it one of the more liberal power sector investment regimes in the world.Government Ownership
The government continues to play a strong role in the Norwegian economy through its ownership or control of many of the country's leading commercial firms. The public sector accounts for nearly sixty percent of GDP. The Norwegian government is the largest owner in Norway, and 80 enterprises are managed directly by its ministries. Central or local authorities own approximately 35 percent of the companies listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and approximately 40 percent of the stock exchange's capitalization is in government hands. The current center-left government, which assumed power in October 2005, has indicated that it will not sell any additional state-owned shares of partially privatized companies, in essence freezing state ownership at current levels. In fact, there are indications that the current coalition government seeks to increase governmental ownership in certain sectors and industries.Ownership of Real Property
Foreign investors may generally own real property, though ownership of certain real assets is restricted. Companies must obtain a concession to acquire rights to own or use various kinds of real property, including forests, mines, tilled land, and waterfalls. Foreign companies need not, however, seek concessions to rent real estate, e.g. commercial facilities or office space, provided the rental contract is made for a period not exceeding ten years. The two major laws governing concessions are the Act of December 14, 1917 and the Act of May 31, 1974.Petroleum Sector
The Petroleum Act of November 1996 (superseding the 1985 Petroleum Act) sets forth the legal basis for Norwegian authorities' awards of petroleum exploration and production blocks and follow-up activity. The act covers governmental control over exploration, production, and transportation of petroleum.
Foreign oil companies report no discrimination in the award of petroleum exploration and development blocks in recent licensing rounds. Norway has implemented EU directives requiring equal treatment of EEA oil and gas companies. The Norwegian offshore concession system complies with EU directive 94/33/EU of May 30, 1994, which governs conditions for awards and hydrocarbon development. Norway's concession process operates on a discretionary basis, with the government awarding licenses based on subjective factors, e.g. what company is judged the best operator for a particular field, rather than according to competitive bidding or other objective basis.
The Norwegian government has dismantled former tight controls over the gas pipeline transit network that carries gas to the European market. All gas producers and operators on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) are free to negotiate gas sales contracts on an individual basis, with access to the gas export pipeline network guaranteed.
The government initiated partial privatization of the state-owned oil company, Statoil, in 2001 and partially sold off state oil and gas assets to Statoil and other operators on the NCS. Further privatization, however, was halted by the current government. Statoil and Norsk Hydro’s oil and gas division, Norway's two major petroleum producers and largest NCS operators, merged on October 1, 2007. The new entity, StatoilHydro, controls 80% of NCS operatorships. Following the merger, the Norwegian government held a 62.5% share in the merged firm, which has since been increased to 66.4%. Given the dominant role the two Norwegian petroleum firms have played on the NCS, the merger could have significant ramifications for foreign competitors operating offshore Norway.
On June 22, 2007, the Norwegian government also bought a 30 percent share in the Norwegian company Aker Holding AS, which in turn is a 40 percent owner of the largest Norwegian-owned company in the country’s oil and gas industry, AkerKvaerner. AkerKvaerner is the largest equipment supplier to Norway’s oil and gas industry. The approximately $800 million investment was prompted by the government’s call to ensure national ownership in key businesses. The impact on market access to U.S. companies resulting from both the StatoilHydro merger, and AkerKvaerner buy-in, remains unclear.
Norwegian authorities encourage the use of Norwegian goods and services in the offshore petroleum sector, but do not require it. The Norwegian share of the total supply of goods and services on the NCS has remained approximately fifty percent over the last decade. Manufacturing Sector
Norwegian legislation granting national treatment to foreign investors in the manufacturing sector dates from 1995. Legislation that formerly required both foreign and Norwegian investors to notify and, in some cases, file burdensome reports to the Ministry of Industry and Trade if their holdings of a company's equity exceeded certain threshold levels was repealed in July 2002. Foreign investors are not currently required to obtain government authorization before buying shares of Norwegian corporations. Financial and Other Services
Effective January 1, 2004, Norway liberalized restrictions on acquisitions of equity in Norwegian financial institutions. Prior to that time, any investor, foreign or domestic, had to obtain a concession from the Norwegian Finance Ministry to acquire more than 10 percent of such equity (or shareholder stake), unless they went on to acquire 100 percent of the financial institution. Current regulations delegate responsibility for acquisitions to the Norwegian Financial Supervisory Authority and streamline the process.
The Financial Supervisory Authority permission is required for acquisitions of Norwegian financial institutions that exceed defined threshold levels (20, 25, 33 or 50 percent). The Authority assesses the acquisitions to ensure that prospective buyers are financially stable and that the acquisition does not unduly limit competition.
The Authority applies national treatment to foreign financial groups and institutions, but nationality restrictions still apply to banks. At least half the members of the board and half the members of the corporate assembly of a bank must be nationals and permanent residents of Norway or another EEA nation. Effective January 1, 2005, there is no ceiling on foreign equity in a Norwegian financial institution as long as the Authority has granted permission for the acquisition.
The Finance Ministry has abolished remaining restrictions on the establishment of branches by foreign financial institutions, including banks, mutual funds and other types. Under the liberalized regime, Norway grants branches of U.S. and other foreign financial institutions the same treatment as domestic institutions.Media
No individual party, domestic or foreign, may own more than 40 percent of one single national newspaper, radio and/or television company without a concession. National treatment is granted in line with Norway's obligations under the EEA accord. The introduction, and growing importance, of new media forms (including those emerging from the internet and wireless industries) raises concerns that the existing domestic legal regime (which largely focuses on printed media) is becoming outmoded. Investment Screening Mechanisms
Investment applications, when required, are processed by the ministries concerned. For example, the Ministry of Trade and Industry handles applications to acquire real property in Norway when permission is required. The Finance Ministry handles cases involving financial institutions. The Ministry of Culture is responsible for media cases. Decisions are normally taken at the Ministerial level. However, in some cases with significant political implications, the minister(s) may ask the entire cabinet to make the decision.
The processing time for acquisition applications depends on several factors, but is normally from one to three months. The government may set conditions when a concession is granted, which is commonly done in cases involving more than one-third foreign ownership. Concession agreements do not permit a company to engage in business activities other than those specified. In general, the government screens investments on a case-by-case basis based on the "public interest" principle. This principle is vague and permits broad discretion, which the government has sometimes used to protect domestic business interests and preserve jobs.Competition, Acquisition and Takeovers
Current legislation governing competition went into effect on May 1, 2004. The legislation established a Norwegian Competition Authority (NCA) under the authority of the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform (whose name was changed from the "Ministry of Renewal" in 2006). The NCA is authorized to conduct non-criminal proceedings and impose fines, or "infringement fees," for anti-competitive behavior. The size of the fees may vary according to a number of factors, including company turnover and severity of the offense. The NCA may impose lower infringement fees if a company under investigation cooperates.
The 2004 legislation also empowers the NCA to halt mergers that threaten to significantly weaken competition. Companies planning mergers are obliged by law to report their plans to the NCA, which may conduct a review.
The Ministry of Government Administration and Reform amended its regulations on the threshold values for triggering a merger review, effective January 1, 2007. The revisions increase the value thresholds to exempt more transactions from the obligation to submit a standardized notification to the NCA. Mergers in which the companies involved have a combined annual turnover in Norway exceeding NOK 50 million (about USD 8 million) must notify the Competition Authority. However, if only one of the undertakings concerned has an annual turnover in Norway exceeding NOK 20 million, notification is not required. The former thresholds for triggering a merger review were quite low -- NOK 20 million (USD 3.3 million) and NOK 5 million (USD 800,000), respectively. Public Procurements
Pursuant to its obligations under the EEA, Norway implemented EU legislation on public procurements on January 1, 1994. Norway is also a signatory to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). The EEA/EU legislation and WTO agreement oblige Norway to follow internationally recognized, transparent procedures for public procurements above certain threshold values.
All public procurement contracts exceeding certain threshold values must be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and in the EU's Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) databank. Norway instituted an electronic notice database more than a decade ago and currently transmits all tender notices electronically through this database to the TED system.
The rules apply to procurement by the central government, regional or local authorities, bodies governed by public law, or associations formed by one or more such authorities or bodies governed by public law. In addition, special rules apply to the procurement by certain entities in the "utilities" sectors of water, energy, transport and telecommunications.
Public agencies must publish general annual plans for purchases of goods and services, as well as general information on any major building and construction projects planned. No later than two months after a contract has been awarded, a notice stating which company won the contract must be published. All notices must be published in an EU language.
Discriminatory technical specifications may not be used to tailor contracts for a local or national supplier. Any technical standards applied in the procurement process must be national standards that are harmonized with European standards. If no such standards exist, other international or national standards may be applied. All specifications that are to be used in evaluating tenders must be included in the notice or in the invitation to tender.
In general, public procurements are non-discriminatory and based on open, competitive bidding. There are exceptions, however, notably in defense procurements where national security concerns may be taken into account. Exceptions for defense procurement leave a “gray area” for dual use items that also can be used in military operations. Large public procurements can also become politicized. In 2006, for example, the government vacillated over awarding a large contract for an emergency communications system while several ministries carried on an internal debate, fueled by media and political critics, over the business ethics of the apparent winner.
In January 2003 the Norwegian Parliament established an independent review body for bid challenges that offers suppliers an inexpensive complaint process. This Complaint Board can issue “non-binding opinions” and review the legality of the procurement in question. More serious disputes may be taken before the European Surveillance Authority (ESA), or the courts, but the decision making process can be unduly lengthy. Investment Incentives
Norway offers no significant general tax incentives for either domestic or foreign investors. There is an exception for investments in sparsely settled northern Norway, where reduced payroll taxes and other incentives apply. There are no free-trade zones, although taxes are minimal on Svalbard, a remote area, which is subject to special treaty provisions. A state industry and regional development fund provides support (e.g., investment grants and financial assistance) for industrial development in areas with special employment difficulties or with low levels of economic activity. Tax deductions are allowed for research costs in key industries, including the petroleum sector. Petroleum sector regulations for write-offs of exploration expenses are generous to encourage the search for new hydrocarbon resources. Discriminatory/Preferential Export/Import Policies
An export promotion organization, Innovation Norway, assists export-oriented firms to market their goods and services internationally. Norway also maintains an export credit institution (Eksportfinans) and an export guarantee institution (GIEK).
Norway's agricultural sector is highly protected from external competition through a variety of tariffs, subsidies, and other barriers. Norway imposes high variable tariffs on farm product imports that compete with domestic products, largely excluding them from the market. Tariff rates on agricultural products currently average about 38 percent -- in comparison to less than one percent for non-agricultural products -- and can range up to several hundred percent. Agricultural export subsidies are also high.
Norway strictly limits imports of agricultural products containing genetically modified materials. Norway has gradually adopted the EU's biotechnology policies with regard to allowable content and labeling of genetically modified materials in foodstuffs, the culmination of an administrative review process initiated earlier this decade. Adopting EU standards has not necessarily eased entry for genetically modified agricultural products, however, as Norway still maintains a separate and independent domestic approval process that has kept practically all genetically modified foodstuffs, even many of those approved in the EU, off the local market.
Conversion and Transfer Policies
Dividends, profits, interest on loans, debentures, mortgages and repatriation of invested capital are freely and fully remissible, subject to Central Bank reporting requirements. Ordinary payments from Norway to foreign entities can normally be made without formalities through commercial banks.
Expropriation and Compensation
There have been no cases of questionable expropriation in recent memory. Government "takings" of property are generally limited to non-discriminatory land and property condemnation for public purposes (road construction, etc.). The Embassy is not aware of any cases in which compensation has not been prompt, adequate and effective.
Norway has ratified principal international agreements governing arbitration and settlement of investment disputes, including the New York Convention of June 10, 1985. No major investment disputes have occurred in recent years.
Norway's legal system is well developed and provides effective means for enforcing property and contractual rights. Laws governing commercial matters are consistently applied without undue government interference.
Performance Requirements and Incentives
Norway does not impose performance requirements or incentives on foreign investors.
Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Subject to the restrictions noted above, foreign and domestic entities are generally free to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of legal commercial activity. Norway generally treats private and public enterprises equally in terms of market access and other business operations. Foreign investors are generally permitted to participate freely in privatizations of Norwegian state firms.
Protection of Property Rights
Norway recognizes secured interests in property, both movable and real. The system for recording interests in property is recognized and reliable.
Norway maintains an open and effective legal and judicial system that protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of rights in property, including land, buildings and mortgages.Intellectual Property Rights
Norway adheres to key international agreements for the protection of intellectual property rights (e.g., the Paris Union Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Copyright Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention of 1952, and the Rome Convention). It has notified its main intellectual property laws to the World Trade Organization. Norway's intellectual property statutes cover the major areas referred to in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
The chief domestic statutes governing intellectual property rights include: the Patents Act of December 15, 1967, as amended; the Designs Act of March 14, 2003; the Copyrights Act of May 12, 1961, as amended; the Layout-design Act of June 15, 1990, as amended; the Marketing Act of June 16, 1972; and the Trademarks Act of March 3, 1961, as amended. The above legislation also protects trade secrets and industrial designs, including semiconductor chip layout design. As an EEA member, Norway has implemented the 2001 EU Copyright Directive, though its implementation could be subject to challenge (see below). Patents
The patent office (Styret for det Industriale Rettsvern) grants patents for a period of 20 years (Acts of June 8, 1979, and May 4, 1985). Patent protections are weak, however, in the pharmaceutical sector. Until 1992, Norway limited patent protection for pharmaceuticals to the manufacturing process for a drug's active ingredient. Although Norway introduced product patents for pharmaceuticals in 1992, the old system has left a difficult legacy for pharmaceutical companies, as competitors claiming to use non-patented processes have continuously entered the market. Several U.S. pharmaceutical companies began filing patent infringement lawsuits in Norwegian courts in 2005 to fend off these new entrants. One U.S. company lost a preliminary injunction in a patent infringement case in 2006, which allowed the copycat drug to enter the market immediately, cost the company significant revenue, and led to layoffs of local employees. In May, 2007, a Norwegian court ruled that a generic competitor did not infringe upon the leading local selling drug of a U.S. pharmaceutical company, which accounted for 25 percent of its local revenues. In 2008, American pharmaceutical companies led court challenges against other generic providers. The majority of prescription drugs currently sold in Norway are covered by the old "process" patent system, placing a significant amount of foreign pharmaceutical firms' local revenues at risk. As a result of this patent protection issue, U.S. companies were forced to restructure their Norwegian operations, and cut approximately half of their employees in Norway.
Given the significant and continued U.S. governmental and private industry concerns over the lack of Norwegian pharmaceutical patent protections, Norway was placed on the 2008 Watch List in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report. Copyright
Internet piracy exists in Norway . Broadband internet is standard, making peer-to-peer downloads of music and video easy and common. Groups that release early copies of new motion pictures (including so-called “encoding groups,” release groups” and “top sites”) on the internet are problematic. In 2008, Norway experienced its first handful of “camcording incidents,” where motion pictures are illegally recorded in cinemas. Relatedly, the first global piracy of a U.S. 2008 blockbuster movie (Iron Man) occurred in Norway.
Private organizations like the Motion Picture Association are attempting to raise public awareness of internet and video piracy, for example by running anti-pirating advertisements in movie theaters. Norwegian authorities have not undertaken any serious public relations efforts to combat internet or other piracy of copyrighted property. The Norwegian government does not consider itself obligated under the European Economic Area Agreement to implement the European Union Enforcement Directive.
In June 2005, Norway enacted legislation based on the EU's 2001 Copyright Directive that combats internet piracy and addresses some gaps in Norway's intellectual property rights protections. The legislation bans unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing and requires that creative works can only be downloaded from the internet with the artist's prior approval. The legislation also grants legal protection to technological protection measures designed to prevent unauthorized use of a creative work. The law bars the intentional circumvention of such systems in most circumstances.
However, an exception is made for “private use” on certain playback equipment, concerning the circumvention of copy protection exclusively on audio CDs. This measure allows music CD owners to breach protection measures in order to transfer copyrighted music to an MP3 player. Although not expressly stated in the law, the legislative history of this provision suggests that “private use” also includes providing free copies to family and friends.
In compensation, Norway budgeted NOK 34.8 million in 2007 and NOK 36.3 million in 2008 for payments to affected music and motion picture rights holders. Norway plans to make such payments annually from future government budgets. The funds will be paid only to rightsholders in the EU and EFTA countries, though copyrighted American products undoubtedly comprise a high percentage of downloaded material.
In 2008, analog TV broadcasting was discontinued,with the digital broadcasting standard implemented nationwide. All TV viewers now require an annual subscription and a digital receiver. This assists in combating a previous free-rider issue, where a significant amount of people would pick up TV signals with analog antennas without paying the annual license fee.. Counterfeit and Pirated Goods
Norway does not expressly ban imports of counterfeit or pirated goods. A trademark or copyright holder must obtain a court order and have the case referred to the police before customs authorities will take action to stop entries of pirated goods. In September 2007 legislation was enacted providing Norwegian customs officials with discretionary powers to inform rightsholders of suspected counterfeit/pirated seized goods. Previously, Norway’s strict privacy laws barred customs authorities from informing rights holders when questionable shipments arrived at the border. The new legislation provides rightsholders with a five day window following notice of the seized goods, during which the rightsholders must decide whether to proceed with an injunction (which, if it fails, translates into the rightsholders inheriting the burden of covering all legal fees related to the failed injunction).Digital Rights Management Technologies
In 2006, the Norwegian government's stance toward Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies garnered widespread attention when staff from the Norwegian Consumer Council, a quasi-public organization allied with groups challenging rights holder protections, complained to Norway's Consumer Ombudsman that they could not play music downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Music Store onto unrelated media. The Consumer Ombudsman issued a decision letter asserting that iTunes violated Norwegian consumer laws and contract principles. The letter called on Apple to allow iTunes customers to play downloaded music on non-Apple devices or face fines. The Ombudsman was vocal in his public opposition to iTunes and attempted to organize fellow European Ombudsmen in a “united front” against Apple. In September 2008, the Ombudsman submitted the case to the Norwegian Market Council, which can reach a legally binding decision about the legality of Apple’s technology. The eventual decision may influence the Norwegian government’s will to formally amend copyright legislation to address the DRM issue.Enforcement
Enforcement of IPR protections is inconsistent. Norwegian police and judicial authorities are generally committed in principle to taking action against piracy and intellectual property right infringement, to the extent authorized by Norwegian law, and have successfully prosecuted a number of high-profile cases. However, the authorities lack the capability and resources to handle complaints about IPR violations effectively. Given limited resources, Norwegian law enforcement authorities have placed higher priority on areas like computer crime than traditional IPR violations. Local business representatives indicate that complaints about copyright infringement usually either go unaddressed or are given low priority. The Norwegian government is reviewing its Copyright Act in the preparation for a 2009 White Paper.
Transparency of Regulatory System
The transparency of Norway's regulatory system is generally on par with that of the EU. Norway is obliged to adopt EU directives under the terms of the EEA accord. Government directives or rulings that affect foreign investors or businesses are not always, however, communicated to interested parties in a transparent and effective manner. Foreign investors and domestic companies sometimes complain that new regulations affecting their operations are announced and implemented on short notice with little effective opportunity to provide comments or input to policymakers.
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Norway has a highly computerized banking system that provides a full range of banking services, including internet banking. There are no significant impediments to the free market-determined flow of financial resources. Foreign banks have been permitted to establish branches in Norway since 1996.
Foreign and domestic investors have adequate access to capital. The private sector enjoys access to a wide variety of credit instruments. The financial regulatory system is transparent and consistent with international norms. The Oslo Stock Exchange is well established and facilitates portfolio investment and securities transactions in general.
Norwegian banks are generally on a sound financial footing, and Norway has enjoyed a relatively sheltered position in the recent global financial turmoil. Conservative asset/liquidity requirements limited the exposure of banks to bankruptcies and plummeting markets internationally. However, frozen capital markets prompted a temporary liquidity crisis in the fall of 2008, and the government was forced to issue a modest bail-out package.
The Norwegian state acquired controlling stakes in the country's top three commercial banks in the government's bailout of the banking sector in the 1990s. The state has subsequently reduced its stakes in the top two banks and sold its entire stake in the third biggest bank to private investors. The assets of the top five commercial banks account for over 85 percent of total banking assets.
In November, 2007, an Oslo-based investment house declared bankruptcy after Financial Supervisory Authority regulators revoked its license for failing to inform Norwegian townships of the high risks of their U.S. investments. The four small townships in northern Norway had been embroiled in a conflict with the equity house over losses, alleging that the brokerage firm failed to inform them of the high risk of 451 NOK (USD $82 million) in investments placed through Citibank. All four of the townships had borrowed money against expected future income from municipal hydroelectric plants, and invested in complex funds in part based on risky subprime mortgages in the United States.
The Norsk Hydro chairman resigned in August 2007, after the Norwegian government (the majority Norsk Hydro shareholder) instructed Hydro to end its stock option program, which the company chairman believed it was legally obligated to fulfill. A major U.S. shareholder of Norsk Hydro wrote to the Norwegian Trade Minister, critical of the government's pressure on the former chairman. The U.S. company expressed concern that the Norwegian government failed to seek a change in the options policy through the proper corporate governance structures (such as calling an extraordinary shareholders meeting).
Norway is a vibrant, stable democracy. Violent political protests or incidents are extremely rare. There have been no recent occasions of politically motivated attacks on foreign commercial projects or property in recent years.
Corrupt activity by Norwegian or foreign officials is a criminal offense under Norway's Penal Code. Norway's anti-corruption laws cover illicit activities overseas, subjecting Norwegian nationals/companies who bribe officials in foreign countries to criminal penalties in Norwegian courts.
Business is generally conducted "above the table" in Norway, though there have been some recent celebrated cases of corruption in commercial dealings. In 2003, for example, Norway's economic crime police unit ("Oekokrim") initiated an investigation into allegations that a Statoil executive had bribed an official in Iran to expand the company's business there. Oekokrim fined Statoil NOK 20 million (USD 3.3 million) in June 2004 for the improper payments. Statoil's Chief Executive Officer subsequently resigned and the firm announced in October 2004 that it would pay the penalty without admitting or denying guilt. In mid-2005, Oekokrim opened a similar investigation of one of Norway's leading private research institutions, SINTEF, for questionable payments to procure contracts in Iran, and subsequently fined the organization NOK 2 million (USD 320,000).
Allegations of corruption in the retail food and beverage sector have also arisen in recent years. In January 2005, a number of managers and employees of the government retail alcohol monopoly, Vinmonopolet, were alleged to have improperly accepted gifts and other favors from Norway's leading wine importer in exchange for favored treatment for the company's wine offerings.
Some of Norway's leading retail grocery chains were accused in 2005 of abusing their market position, e.g., by demanding questionable payments for access to shelf space or barring the goods of food producers who sell to their competitors. Norway's National Competition Authority (NCA) initiated a study of questionable industry practices after media reports alleged that suppliers of everything from toothpaste to dairy products had long been pressured into paying large, undisclosed sums to the grocery chains to be able to sell their products in the stores or to ensure attractive placement on store shelves.
A similar scandal embroiled Norway's leading dairy cooperative. The NCA fined the dairy cooperative NOK 45 million (over USD 7 million) in September, 2005 for making illicit payments to a grocery chain to be its sole supplier of cheese. The dairy was also alleged to have paid another grocery chain to keep a much smaller, competing dairy's milk off its shelves.
In October 2007, the StatoilHydro chairman resigned following a scandal concerning deals that Norsk Hydro allegedly made with consultants concerning Libyan petroleum operations. The case was submitted for internal investigation and two reports were issued in October 2008. The first exonerated the chairman, while the second concluded that he had knowledge of the transactions. Two senior VP’s were forced to step down, following the publication of the report.
The chairman of German-owned Siemens AG group’s Norwegian division stepped down in November 2007 following accusations of providing illegal trips to Norwegian military officials, including an alleged Spanish golfing excursion by the head of the Norwegian joint command. In June 2006, a government commission found that Siemens knowingly overcharged the military $6.8 million between 2000 and 2004. At that time, Siemens Norway apologized, promised to refund the excess charges, and replaced its entire top management. Oekokrim also announced in November 2007 that they assessed a $1.6 million fine against Siemens for defrauding the military.
In December 2008, the highest ranking bureaucrat in the Ministry of Petroleum & Energy resigned after it was revealed that she had made targeted investments in the Norwegian oil industry through a private holding company, while serving as Director General. It is strictly forbidden for Ministry officials to own stock which is sensitive to their own political decisions.
Norway is a member the Council of Europe's anti-corruption watchdog Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). According to the most recent (September 2004) GRECO evaluation, Norway's law enforcement and judicial authorities are well equipped to deal with economic crimes, including corruption. GRECO recommended that Norway step up training of police officers and prosecutors to better detect and fight corruption. According to a follow-up report dated October 2006, Norway satisfactorily implemented GRECO's recommendations.
Bilateral Investment Agreements
Norway has concluded investment protection agreements with numerous countries. These agreements contain provisions for repatriation of capital, dispute settlement, and standards for expropriation and nationalization by the host country.
Norway and other members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) -- Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland -- have jointly concluded free trade agreements and/or declarations of cooperation with more than twenty countries, or blocks of countries, since 1960. These include: , Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Singapore, Southern African Customs Union, The Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Albania, Algeria, , the Gulf Cooperation Council, MERCOSUR, Mongolia, Serbia, --, and Ukraine. The agreements cover trade in goods and services, services and investment, dispute settlement and other issues generally found in bilateral investment accords.
OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The Norwegian Guarantee Institute for Export Credits (GIEK) is the central governmental agency responsible for issuing export credits and investment guarantees. GIEK operates under the authority of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, which contains a section that oversees export and investment guarantees and domestic industry financing.
GIEK's primary function is to promote export of Norwegian goods and services and Norwegian investment abroad. It underwrites exports to over 150 countries of all types of goods and services. The guarantees may encompass a single transaction or a series of transactions and cover not only commercial risk, i.e., bankruptcy on the part of the debtor or non-payment for other reasons, but also political risk, i.e., war, expropriation and actions by the public authorities that prevent payment.
GIEK offers long term guarantees for export of capital goods to most countries, including emerging markets. The guarantees are issued on behalf of the Norwegian government and can be used as security vis-à-vis banks and other financial institutions to facilitate funding. The Director General and a Board of seven directors are responsible for day-to-day operations.
GIEK's business is divided into three separate areas: General Scheme, Special Resolutions by the Storting and the Old Portfolio. GIEK also manages a separate scheme aimed at developing nations on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
GIEK offers the following products and services:
Individual policy - buyer's credit: Covers the risk associated with individual deliveries of goods and services and is normally furnished for long-term credits (beyond 2 years). GIEK guarantees for the down payment on a loan raised by the buyer for financing deliveries from a Norwegian exporter.
Individual policy - supplier's credit: Covers the risk associated with individual deliveries of goods and services, and is normally furnished for short-term credits (less than 2 years) and/or smaller credits. GIEK guarantees for the down payment of the loan a Norwegian exporter grants the buyer.
Pre-shipment guarantee: Protects the exporter against losses that may occur during the production period, prior to delivery.
Bond guarantee: Helps the exporters to furnish guarantees for tenders, advance payments or completion (bonds).
Investment guarantee: Covers political risks associated with investments outside Norway.
Building loan guarantee: Scheme for the shipbuilding industry where GIEK shares up to 50% of the risk the building loan bank has.
Tender guarantee: Scheme for recovery of expenses related to participation in international tenders for development-assistance-financed projects in poor countries.
Whole Turn-over Scheme: Protects the exporter against losses on short-term export credits (up to 360 days).
In 2001, GIEK turned over responsibility for operations in the market for short-term customer credit insurance to a wholly-owned subsidiary, GIEK Credit Insurance Ltd. (GIEK CI), which primarily services exporters who are unable to secure satisfactory offers on the private market. GIEK CI protects against losses on short-term credits (up to 2 years) to foreign as well as to Norwegian buyers. GIEK CI is covered against political and commercial risks outside the OECD countries through a reinsurance agreement with GIEK. Risks within OECD countries are covered through a reinsurance agreement in the private market.
GIEK is a member of the Berne Union. Norway is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).
Skilled and semi-skilled labor is usually available in Norway, though strong economic growth in recent years has caused shortages in certain professions (e.g., nurses) and in unskilled labor (construction workers). The labor force totals about 2.61 million persons (up from 2.52 million persons in 2007), representing 74.3 percent of the working-age population. Unemployment stood at 2.5 percent as of September 2008, similar to the end of 2007. However, as an effect of the global finance crisis, unemployment is expected to grow to reach 4.6 percent in 2010, before dropping off in 2011.
From the third quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2008, the number of employed people increased by 83,000, while the number of unemployed rose by 3,000. The net labor force thus increased by 86,000 people, slightly higher than the population growth which was 61,000. The labor force participation rate rose by 1.1 percentage points from the third quarter of 2007 to the third quarter of 2008. Both the female and the male participation rates increased.
For the last few years, financial services and other business activities have shown the strongest employment growth.. Other recent growth sectors include legal, accounting, and auditing services, business and management consultancy, as well as temporary staffing agencies. these same entities are now contemplating large-scale staffing cuts.
Union membership is in excess of 1.5 million persons, over 60 percent of the labor force. Labor benefits are generous, e.g., one year's paid maternity leave (financed chiefly by the government).
The average number of hours worked per week, 34.3 as of December 2006, is among the lowest in the OECD. Sickness and absenteeism rates in the third quarter of 2008 of 6.9 percent are among the highest in the OECD, and up a full percentage point from last year. The highest increase is among young males in the finance sector.
Despite attempts to curb wage growth, Norwegian blue-collar hourly earnings are comparatively high. (High wages encourage the use of relatively capital-intensive technologies in Norwegian industry.) Top-level executives and highly-skilled engineers on the other hand, are generally paid considerably less than their U.S. counterparts.
Obtaining work permits for foreign labor, particularly for semi-skilled workers, can be cumbersome. Norway has witnessed a strong influx of foreign workers as demand for labor has outstripped supply in some sectors, e.g., construction.
The government has a history of imposing mandatory wage mediation should strikes threaten key sectors in the economy, particularly the oil and gas and transportation sectors. The government stepped in in 2006 to prevent a threatened strike in the banking sector. There was no mandatory wage mediation in the 2007 intermediate wage negotiations.
Foreign-Trade Zones/Free Ports
Norway has no foreign trade zones and does not contemplate establishing any.
Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
The following data are the latest available from the Norwegian Central Bank and the Norwegian Central Bureau of Statistics. Figures on investment position refer to book value. These figures are limited to companies in which a single foreign investor holds 10 percent or more of equity capital and do not include foreign ownership interests via third party investment. Flow investment statistics are based on market value. FDI stands for Foreign Direct Investment.Note that the NOK/USD exchange rates were as follows for the period in review:
Source: Norges Bank
|(Last day recorded)|
Table I: FDI Position in Norway by Country (NOK Bill)
Source: Statistics Norway
|of which from:|
Table II: FDI Position in Norway by Industry (NOK Bill)
Source: Statistics Norway
|of which in:|
Table III: Norway's Investment Position Abroad by Country (NOK Bill)
Source: Statistics Norway
|Total Inv. Abroad||499.1||505.7||551.9||555.8||667.0||764.4|
|of which in:|
Table IV: Norway's Investment Position Abroad by Industry (NOK Bill)
Source: Statistics Norway
Major Foreign Investors
|of which in:|
Norwegian, American and other foreign petroleum companies have invested billions of dollars in the Norwegian offshore petroleum sector. The major U.S. investors offshore are: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Marathon, and Hess. Major U.S. petroleum service providers include Halliburton, Baker Hughes, National Oilwell Varco, Weatherford, and BJ Services. The number of companies holding production/operator licenses on the Norwegian Continental Shelf currently totals 57, including other international majors like BP-Amoco, Shell, ENI, and Total. In 2008, foreign and Norwegian petroleum firms invested approximately NOK 127 billion (USD 22 billion) in the offshore petroleum sector.
On the Norwegian mainland, major U.S. investors and suppliers include: IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Google, Coca-Cola Norge, Pepsi Cola Norge, Kraft General Foods, American Express, General Electric, FMC, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Avis, Hertz, Pfizer, Merck, Eli Lilly, Colgate-Palmolive, DHL International, Ernst & Young, Hewlett-Packard, Ingersoll-Rand, Kellogg, 3M, Manpower, Motorola, Wrigley and Xerox Corporation. In all, over 200 American firms have established branch offices or subsidiaries in Norway.Note on Sources
Information in this report was obtained from various sources within the Ministries of Finance, Trade and Industry, Labor, and Foreign Affairs, as well as the Norwegian Central Bureau of Statistics and the Central Bank of Norway.
Norwegian Ministry of Financehttp://www.regjeringen.no/en/ministries/fin
Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industryhttp://www.regjeringen.no/en/ministries/nhd
Norwegian Ministry of Labor and Social Inclusionhttp://www.regjeringen.no/en/ministries/aid
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairshttp://www.regjeringen.no/en/ministries/ud
Central Bank of Norwayhttp://www.norges-bank.no/english/