At just £12 million (€14 million) annually, the value of trade between the UK and Greenland is inconsequential for both countries. For Britain, it is 1/7,000 of the total value of its total imports and exports; for Greenland, whose fish exports to the UK accounted for £10 million of the trade between the two, it is two-thirds of one percent of its trade.
On the face of it, then, the two countries would seem to have better things to use their time on than to work out a free-trade deal, as they agreed they would on January 27 during visit by Múte B Egede, Greenland’s premier, to the British embassy in Copenhagen (pictured above). Success would return the relationship to the state it was in prior to the UK leaving the European Union and its trade deals. This included quota and tariff-free access to each other’s markets as part of the Overseas Countries and Territories arrangement.
Newly divorced, the UK is looking to make good on its promise to become “global Britain”, a strategy that involves London seeking to regain the international status it had in 1973, prior to joining what is today the EU. Establishing relationships that emulate the agreements it had as an EU member is a big part of that. No deal, in that respect, is too small.
For Greenland, the deal, for one thing, would mean lower tariffs for an activity that accounts for 95% of its export activity. Fishing is not just big business in Greenland, it is also big politics, and being able to show tangible results on the industry’s behalf will go down well all around.
But making a deal with the UK would also lend credibility to Greenland’s own plans to go global. Being able to negotiate commercial agreements is one of the highlights of its 2009 devolution agreement with Copenhagen, and talking trade is a way for it to simulate pursing foreign relations of its own (something that it, strictly speaking, may not). Striking a deal with a big neighbour that has a lot of political, commercial and cultural clout would go a long way towards proving to others and, not least, itself, that establishing a foreign profile separate from Denmark’s is realistic.
But both countries may be seeing their trade relations more for what they could be than for what they are right now. British companies hold more licenses to conduct mining activity in Greenland than anyone else, and a host of others have been active there in the past. Their work, not to mention the work of academics, has contributed much to Greenland’s understanding of its underground and fuelled its hopes of someday gaining its economic (as well as political) independence.
To date, though, its mining industry has underperformed, and most licences have yet to yield productive mining operations. That has been a source of frustration for lawmakers in Nuuk who are in a rush to give the economy more than one leg to stand on, but it only increases the motivation for both countries to put in the time it takes to eliminate as many barriers to trade as possible. Regardless of how small.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
Featured image: Polar Seafood
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