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‘It’s just hard cheese’: Tine clarifies import duty call to arms

By Ben Bouckley , 22-Feb-2012

Norway’s largest dairy processor Tine has attacked what it claims is an incorrect press report stating it wishes to raise import tariffs for all foreign cheeses.

The co-operative, which turned over NOK 19.387bn (€2.57bn) in 2011, insisted that national daily newspaper Aftenposten had misreported its call for import duties to be increased on a wide range of foreign cheeses.

Last Friday the paper carried an article with the headline ‘Tine vil stenge Brien ute’ (‘Tine will shut the Brie out’) but the company said that it had contacted the title to ensure that this headline and other factual errors in the article were corrected.

Executive director Elisabeth Morthen, Tine, said: “It is correct that Tine has asked for a percent duty on cheese, but it applies to hard cheeses. Not specialty cheeses such as blue veined, white veined, feta and unpasteruised cheeses.

“Amongst these specialty cheeses we find both brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola and Roquefort.”

Effectively, TINE wants import tariffs based on a percentage of the price of the cheeses in their home countries, instead of duties currently paid at a fixed rate per kilo, which Norway currently sets at NOK 24.68 to 27.15 across the cheese category.

Good Norwegian alternatives

But Morthen said that TINE had no intention of making French cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and Roquefort more expensive for Norwegian consumers

“We will, therefore, not ask for tolls on these types of cheeses. We wish to have tariffs on hard white cheese [TINE’s native brands in the latter category include Jarlsberg and Norvegia].”

Tine was calling for the increase because hard white cheeses were imported on a large scale – for use at least in part as industrial cheese – but there were good alternatives in Norway, Morthen said.

Following negotiations with the EU from 2010, Norway agreed to extend toll-free imports of cheese (then set at 4,500 tonnes) to 7,200 tonnes by January 1, 2012.

Tine said that this duty free quota would remain, even if duty were introduced on solid, white cheeses.

‘Progressive’ trade liberalisation

The cheese duty changes form part of a wider EU-Norway agreement on ‘additional trade preferences for agricultural products’, formally concluded last year and initialled back in January 2010.

The agreement allows for regular reviews of trade conditions in agricultural products in view of “progressive liberalisation”, which the EU said would allow its exporters to reinforce their position within the Norwegian market.

Announcing its full-year results last week, with operating profits up slightly year-on-year at NOK 1.176bn (€156m) TINE also admitted it had been caught out by the butter supply shortage that hit Norway late last year.

“Tine regrets that the company did not spot the collective effect of increased demand for cooking fat products and reduced access to raw milk, so that measures to increase the butter supply could have been introduced earlier.”

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