Editorial: If the Svalbard Mines Produced Chocolate

What if Store Norske, the coal company, produced sugar rather than coal? Our Editor-in-Chief, Arne O. Holm, asks. (Photo: SNSK and Pixabay)
Few things amaze me more than Norwegian industrial politics. If anything, it would have to be the Norwegian press’ lacking understanding of the very same, writes our Editor-in-Chief, Arne O. Holm.

Few things amaze me more than Norwegian industrial politics. If anything, it would have to be the Norwegian press’ lacking understanding of the very same. Right now, there is a huge debate in national media about potential terminations at Freia Chocolate Factory in Oslo. Shutting down 200 mining jobs at Svalbard is hardly problematized at all.

I can hardly count how many times the national broadcaster NRK has run a debate on the suggested increase in sugar taxes on next year’s proposed state budget, an increase that may, in turn, threaten Norwegian jobs.

On the other hand, it is easy to keep track of the discussions on Norwegian Svalbard policy. It is almost non-existent.

Cheap shopping

Increasing the taxes on sugar, which would undoubtedly be a contribution to improved public health, is allegedly a threat to an industry that obviously makes a living of filling Norwegian bodies with sugar. The disaster strikes because Norwegian people will not stop drinking their soda, which will be a few pennies more expensive because of the tax increase, and will prefer to drive to Sweden to buy the same soda – without the Norwegian taxes.

And thus, it is claimed, Norwegian industry jobs are sacrificed to the benefit of Swedish retailers.

That is an opportunity, of course. However, only if one lives in a place that makes it economically viable to drive to Sweden to refill our sugar demands. Few of us do.

Claiming that other Norwegian taxes and duties, such as those on alcohol and tobacco, chase Norwegians across the border to save a few pennies requires quite elemental logic reasoning.

However, most of us – in particular in Northern Norway – do not have time nor find it economically viable to conduct the sort of cross-border trade that according to the NRK debates now threatens an entire industry.

The job that disappeared

In order to underline the dramatic significance of the sugar taxes, one constantly refers to the consequences for Freia Chocolate Factory. The Managing Director has already indicated that downscaling the number of employees may be an option.

You would have to look far and wide to find a poorer witness to the truth.

Freia Chocolate Factory was once a Norwegian adventure. Today, it is a piece of industry owned by Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company. Most industrial jobs that were once located in Oslo are moved out of the country long ago – to Sweden, Lithuania and Estonia. The Norwegian sugar tax poses far less of a threat to Norwegian jobs compared with the threat represented by the owners of Freia Chocolate Factory.

On Svalbard, industrial jobs are also about our relationship with other countries. It is about robust geopolitics and a robust local community.

That is something quite other than lost sugar tax income from cross-border shopping.

Secret report

The government has already decided not to resume mining activities in Svea, and to rather use a billion Norwegian kroner to clean it up. This cost has been doubled within a short period of time.

Minister of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, Monica Mæland, explains this decision with its not being viable to resume mining activities. Her argument is not one of environmental concerns, but rather one about economic viability and insecurity related to future operations.

That is what she repeated in Thursday’s debate in Stortinget, the parliament.

It is an honest and fair argument.

The problem is that the report from Deloitte, a consulting company, calculating the profitability of the project, is kept from public disclosure while the costs for cleaning up keep increasing.

Theoretical consequence of the sugar taxes

Normally such secrecy, and such approximation of figures, would cause heated debate; a debate with far more significance and consequences than cross-border trade to Sweden due to increased sugar levies.

Instead of entering into a genuine debate about 200 industrial jobs at Svalbard, the opposition as well as the press choose a debate about theoretical consequences of increased sugar levies.

Perhaps the solution is a large-scale initiative to produce chocolate at Svalbard. Then the industry would at least avoid the increased taxes, and it would also be guaranteed media coverage across all channels.

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