Russia-Ukraine Conflict Means Losses for Icelandic Fishing Industry

fish fishing haddock

Icelandic seafood export companies are expected to suffer considerable losses due to the war in Ukraine, RÚV reports. The technology industry could be equally impacted by the conflict. Iceland’s Finance Minister stated he has no qualms regarding the country’s participation in economic sanctions against Russia and that Iceland must accept their potential impact.

Alþingi’s Industrial Affairs Committee held a meeting yesterday to discuss the economic impact of the war in Ukraine. Its chairman Stefán Vagn Stefánsson stated that it could be far-reaching, affecting both businesses and consumers in Iceland. The losses in the seafood industry are expected to amount to billions of Icelandic krónur, or tens of millions of US dollars.

Finance Minister supports sanctions

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson stated that while the overall impact of the war on Iceland’s economy would be limited, it would affect some of Iceland’s seafood and technology companies considerably. “We must accept some impact, we have to be ready to sacrifice something in order to send a message and it remains to be seen what that [sacrifice] will be,” Bjarni stated, adding that he supported the international efforts to impose economic sanctions on Russia. “I have absolutely no doubts, and I am very happy that a very broad, far-reaching agreement has been achieved to do much more than we have done before, because it has often been criticised that some of what was done [in response to] the annexation of Crimea was too ineffectual.”

Seafood exporters shifted from Russia to Ukraine

In 2014, Russia set a ban on food imports from Iceland, along with several other countries, in response to sanctions following the annexation of Crimea.  Seafood exports made up around 90% of exports to Russia at the time. The value of Icelandic trade to Russia dropped from ISK 26 billion [$209m; €187m] in 2014 to ISK 4 billion [$32m; €29m] in 2018. In response to the ban, many Icelandic seafood companies increased exports to Ukraine, which have now been halted due to the war.

Iceland’s last government worked to increase trade with Russia, even establishing a Russian-Icelandic chamber of commerce in 2019. The focus was on technology exports, particularly in the food industry. In 2020, exports to Russia amounted to ISK 6.6 billion [$51.2m; €46.2m]. Those exports have also come to a stop now, as Russian companies buying Icelandic products are unable to pay for them in foreign currency since the ruble’s dramatic devaluation.

Icelandic Seafood Export Bypasses UK Due to Brexit Delays

fishing regulations iceland

Icelandic seafood exporters have needed to adapt to a changed situation in the UK by shipping seafood to Europe through Rotterdam instead of Immingham, Fiskifréttir newspaper reported today. Hopefully, the changes are temporary. Iceland’s seafood export to the UK is one of the issues still up for discussion in Iceland’s trade deal with the UK, which is still to be finalised.

Considerable delays and interruptions have occurred in seafood transport from the UK to countries in the European Union following the Uk’s final exit from the union at the end of last year. Icelandic shipping companies have been affected by delays and have had to adapt to the situation, especially regarding seafood products they have transported to Europe via the UK. Fresh fish has up until now been regularly shipped to Immingham in the UK, loaded on to trucks and driven to France. According to Eimskip representative Björn Einarsson, customers have stopped using the UK as a transit harbour for mainland Europe, due to delays in the Channel Tunnel and tariff issues at the UK-France border. Fresh fish is now shipping directly to Rotterdam instead of going through Europe. “People have adapted their shipping procedures so that the product goes straight to market in Europe through Rotterdam without passing through the UK.” According to Björn, this has not impacted distribution within the UK or export to the UK.

Samskip representative Þórunn Inga Ingjaldsdóttir states that it’s too soon to draw conclusions regarding the future only two weeks into the new year. “Delays surrounding Brexit were foreseen.” Exporters have been anticipating this moment for a while now as EU-UK negotiations stretched on. “We’d changed our system a while ago to be able to continue servicing our customers that ship directly to the European markets,” stated Þórunn Inga. She added that Samskip makes it clear that the situation is temporary. “We’ve worked hard to keep up delivery schedules and a high level of service with our customers and friends in the UK.”

In an interview with Viðskiptablaðið today, Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson discusses changes to Iceland-UK business relations due to Brexit. While temporary deals with the UK are in place, Guðlaugur notes that despite Brexit finally being a reality, there are still plenty of things to settle regarding trade. As part of the EEA, Iceland is bound in certain ways and until the EU’s Brexit deal was in place, EEA negotiations have been on hold.

When it comes to UK-Iceland trade negotiations, seafood is the most important. “If you were to generalise about the UK, they tend to eat fish caught by other nations while exporting the fish caught in their own fishing jurisdiction.” He mentions as an example the quintessentially British dish of fish and chips, which is, by and large, prepared using Icelandic cod. The UK is also Iceland’s largest export market for lamb. Guðlaugur Þór claimed it was important on this occasion to look at the big picture and continue working towards increased cooperation between nations in Europe, stating: “The UK needs Europe and Europe needs the UK. Cooperation is necessary for more fields than trade.” He added that the EEA states have had no trouble cooperating with the countries of the EU and therefore, there shouldn’t have to be any problems for the UK to continue to work closely with other European countries.