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New US rules grate with Norway cheese giant

Norwegian dairy giant Tine, maker of a hugely popular Jarlsberg cheese brand, has admitted to concern over the potential effects of a US plan to impose higher duties on foreign state-subsidized goods.

New US rules grate with Norway cheese giant
Håvard Holten shows Jarlsberg made for export at Tine's Elnesvågen dairy in 1999 (File photo: Kjell Herskedal/Scanpix)

Although the measure passed last week by the US House of Representatives primarily targets heavily subsidized Chinese goods, the state-supported Norwegian cooperative has begun examining the possible ramifications for its own biggest export, business website StockLink.no reports.

“We don’t yet know what the changes will entail and are currently working on getting an insight into the matter and finding out what consequences this might have for us,” Tine’s Herman Standshaug told StockLink.

“At the same time, we consider this an area that is covered by WTO agreements,” he added.

Sixty percent of the 13,000 tons of Jarlsberg produced in Norway each year ends up on US shelves, while Tine produces a further 9,000 tons of the cheese at its facilities in the United States and Ireland.

Ninety percent of US supermarkets stock the mild Jarlsberg cheese, which is the country’s best-selling product in the “Swiss cheese” category, StockLink said.

Norwegian consumers subsidize Tine’s Jarlsberg export business to the tune of 95 million kroner ($16.5 million) each year, newspaper Aftenposten reports.

Last month, Tine, which enjoys a near monopoly position in Norway, called for the country to impose similar duties on foreign cheeses.

With the import of cheese from abroad up by 14 percent last year, Tine is concerned that domestic producers will start to feel the pinch unless the government takes action, newspaper Aftenposten reported.

“We want higher barriers for the import of cheese. This is needed to safeguard Norwegian products,” managing director Stein Øiom told the newspaper.

Tine found itself the butt of international ridicule last year after Norway fell victim to an acute butter shortage when the cooperative failed to supply the market with enough raw milk. 

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NORWAY EXPLAINED

EXPLAINED: The rules, regulations and social norms of alcohol in Norway

Norway's relationship with alcohol can seem incredibly strange and complex at times. If you want to find out more about the country's drinking culture, you've come to the right place.

EXPLAINED: The rules, regulations and social norms of alcohol in Norway

If one is to trust widely held stereotypes, Norwegians tend to be somewhat shy and reserved in their day-to-day lives.

While this broad rule of thumb might apply to a part of the population on weekdays, it’s an entirely different thing when it comes to the weekend.

Why, you ask? Mostly due to the widely beloved (and overpriced) social adhesive fueling parties across the country – alcohol.

Alcohol-related laws and regulations in Norway

We’re starting this deep-dive article with an overview of the relevant laws and regulations. The legal age for buying alcohol in the country is 18 for wine and beer but 20 for hard liquor (drinks with an alcohol content surpassing 22 percent, such as gin, are considered hard liquor in Norway).

Compared to most European countries, Norway’s laws related to alcohol are pretty strict. First off, know that you aren’t allowed to drink in public spaces in Norway (outdoor bar terraces are excluded from this rule).

Furthermore, the laws are especially tough on drunk drivers – remember that driving with more than 0.02 percent of alcohol in your bloodstream is illegal, with high penalties and fines if you are caught over the limit.

How and where to buy alcohol in Norway

If you plan on buying drinks during a night out (an expensive endeavour in Norway), know that most pubs, bars, and nightclubs have an age limit set at 20-22.

On the other hand, if you want to save some money by buying alcohol in the store, you’ll also be faced with certain rules. All grocery stores sell beer and cider; however, they’re prohibited from selling drinks with an alcohol content surpassing 4.75 percent.

Furthermore, grocery stores can only sell alcohol up to 8pm on weekdays and 6pm on Saturdays. On Sundays and a number of holidays, they usually don’t sell alcohol – if they’re even open at all.

To purchase something stronger than 4.75 percent you will need to head to a Norwegian institution – Vinmonopolet (the literal translation would be ‘Wine Monopoly’).

Vinmonopolet

Vinmonopolet, often just called Polet by Norwegians, is the state-run alcohol store chain that has a monopoly on selling drinks with an alcohol content of over 4.75 percent.

Your first experience with Vinmonopolet is likely to look similar to this: You’ll be walking down the street of a Norwegian city. Suddenly, you’ll see a queue. A really long queue of people, young and old alike, patiently waiting.

What are they waiting for? You might ask yourself. More often than not, the answer will be: They’re waiting for their turn to do some weekend alcohol shopping – or just restock their reserves – at Vinmonopolet.

Note: Polet shops usually close at 6pm on weekdays and 3pm on Saturdays, so make sure to do your shopping within opening hours. Individual Vinmonopolet stores can have different opening hours, so look up your store online and check if they’re open before you make the trip.

The social context of Norway’s restrictive alcohol regulations

In the 1920s and 1930s, Norway decided it would implement a series of regulations to curb consumption and limit the sales of alcohol.

The key concerns of the politicians of the time were how alcohol consumption was driving social and health problems among the Norwegian population.

The measures included – among others – the creation of the aforementioned Vinmonopolet, limits on alcohol sales and purchases, and high tax rates.

Norway had several alcohol bans in place during the last 100 years, especially in the years following World War I – with the most recent ban being the one related to the coronavirus pandemic in 2021.

Norway’s drinking culture

Drinking is very popular in Norway – from nights out in clubs to house parties among friends – expect to find alcohol involved in virtually any social environment. However, the vast majority of the drinking involved will not take place on workdays (with Friday evening being the obvious exception).

There is a social taboo against drinking on workdays – especially during work hours. However, once they clock out on Friday, Norwegians tend to leave all their restraint at the office – weekends often involve heavy partying.

House parties are quite popular in Norway, especially among young people. Don’t expect a night out to start off at bars or pubs right away. With the price level of alcohol in Norway, Norwegians save a lot of money by “warming up” for a night out at a friend’s place.

If you’re attending a house party, make sure to bring your own alcohol. As the prices of alcohol are very high, people are expected to take care of their own drinks. Also, don’t be surprised if guests take their leftover alcohol with them as they leave.

However, despite the sky-high cost of alcohol in the country, larger cities in Norway (such as Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, and Tromsø) have well-developed nightlife scenes.

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