Today, fours years have passed since Russia placed a trade embargo on Iceland. Previously, Iceland had officially supported sanctions placed on Russia by the EU, USA, and more Western nations. The sanctions followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. Russia thus placed a trade embargo on Iceland, along with several other western countries, on August 14 2015. The sanctions placed on Russia involved politicians, wealthy individuals, and weapons trade, amongst other things, while Russia’s embargo mostly focused on consumer goods, especially food.
Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, says it’s imperative that Iceland continues to take a stance with the nations which believe international laws should be respected. Therefore, it would be unwise to concede to the embargo and switch Iceland’s stance at this point in time. “International laws were broken quite crudely. We witnessed a change of borders by force, which we have not seen the like of since World War II,” he stated. The Icelandic government initially considered withdrawing its support of sanctions against Russia, but ultimately decided to uphold the sanctions.
Fishing industry affected
The Icelandic fishing industry has lobbied hard against Iceland’s stance on the matter from the beginning. Fisheries Iceland, an association of fishing companies, believe that Iceland’s continued participation in the sanctions against Russia leads to severe losses for them. The association states on its website that the Icelandic’s government actions are a ‘useless sacrifice’ in an article released on the four-year juncture of the embargo. According to them, Iceland has been proportionally hit the hardest by the embargo as 90% of the exports to Russia were derived from the fishing industry. The value of trade balance to Russia, which has not included service business and used ships for the last four years, has reduced severely.
The value of trade to Russia was ISK 26 billion (€187m, $209m) in 2014 but stood at ISK 4 billion (€29m, $32m) in 2018. The largest part of the reduction has taken place in exports related to the fishing industry. Fisheries Iceland state that even though new markets have been found for goods which previously went to Russia, the augmented value is significantly less.
“No industry, or at least very few, depends on international laws being respected as much as the fishing industry. We can’t take this out of context. It’s in the interest of everyone to abide by international laws, but especially so for the smallest,” Guðlaugur Þór stated, alluding to Iceland’s size in today’s globalized world. He mentioned that trade with Russia is increasing in other industries. High-tech companies will likely increase foreign exchange earnings significantly following recent contracts made with Russian food manufacturing companies. “Since I arrived in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and probably before that time as well, we’ve been hard at work to increased trade between Iceland and Russia. Luckily, we’re seeing the fruit of our labour in a significant increase between years, even though it is not in the same industries as before they placed the embargo on us,” Guðlaugur stated.
For those wishing to read the article from the Fisheries Iceland, it can be found here in Icelandic: https://sfs.is/greinar/vidskiptabannid-a-russa-gagnslaus-forn/