Brexit Brings No Immediate Changes for Icelanders Living in UK

Great Britain’s official exit from the European Union on Friday night won’t have any immediate ramifications for Icelanders who have settled in the country, Vísir reports. Nevertheless, authorities have urged Icelanders intending to remain in the UK after that time to take steps to secure residence permits in advance.

British Ambassador Michael Nevin has stressed that for the time being at least, nothing has really changed; the UK will still abide by European Union laws and regulations until December 31, 2020. He also noted that Icelandic tourists to the UK will be able to enter the country as usual until the same date. “There will be some new regulations after that,” he said, “but Britain will remain open to Icelanders.”

Icelanders who live in the UK now and intend to remain in 2021 and beyond are reminded, however, to apply for a ‘settled status’ residence permit. It’s estimated that 2-3,000 Icelanders live in the UK and thus far, 1,100 have applied for settled status. Stefán Haukur Jóhannesson, Iceland’s ambassador in London, says the deadline is June 30, but urges Icelanders not to wait til the last minute. “It’s not hard to do—there’s an app,” he remarked.

Iceland and UK both “free trade-minded”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson says the next step will be for Iceland to establish new agreements with the UK. Trade and business will be foremost among Iceland’s priorities when negotiating, particularly as regards the fishing industry.

“One of the things we’ve placed an emphasis on is having better access than we currently do via EEA agreements when it comes to marine products,” remarked Guðlaugur. “Because although our current access is good, we’re still not talking about a total absence of customs duties.”

The outlook for favourable trade arrangements with the UK currently seems good for Iceland. For one, both Iceland and the UK are “free trade-minded” says Ambassador Nevin. “We don’t like customs duties and have a high regard for the values of the free market. Which is why we want a trade agreement that doesn’t create any obstacles between us.”

Sunken Ships Reveal Iceland’s Trading History

An abundance of shipwrecks off the coast of Eyrarbakki, South Iceland, suggest it was likely Iceland’s largest trading post until the 20th century, RÚV reports. Archaeologist Ragnar Edvardsson is working to map shipwrecks in the shallow waters around Iceland’s coast. Ragnar has mapped 400 large shipwrecks that occurred between 1200-1920, but believes there could be as many as 1,000 since the island’s settlement.

“I am of course first and foremost trying to get an idea of the number of large ships which I do through working with written sources. Icelanders were of course so good at writing so they often describe the damage to the ships, how many died, and also gave a geographic location,” Ragnar describes.

With the help of these written clues, the archaeologist sets out to sea with a diver to find the shipwrecks and investigate how well they have been preserved.

“It’s really interesting that many things point to the capital of Iceland or the main trading town having been Eyrarbakki, there is a big ship cemetery of trading ships there, but outside of Reykjavík there isn’t the same number,” Ragnar observes.

Ragnar’s research is carried out through the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in the Westfjords. While most of the ships he has mapped are Icelandic, he has also located English, Dutch, Danish, and Basque ships, among others.

US Considering Free Trade Agreement With Iceland

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and US Vice president Mike Pence led a US-Icelandic Business Roundtable.

The Trump administration is considering a free trade agreement with Iceland, Axios reports. This comes on the heels of Vice President Mike Pence’s Iceland visit, during which Pence warned Iceland not to rely on Chinese technology and praised their decision not to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, although no such decision had been made.

According to the Axios report, it isn’t Iceland’s economy that’s tempting the Washington leaders, but the country’s strategic location. The President’s national security team has apparently emphasised the importance of investing in the region. The idea of a trade agreement was floated at a Senate GOP lunch last Tuesday, according to Axios, where Pence reportedly told those in attendance that a working group was exploring a deal and that he was “amenable” to the idea. Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson has made no secret of his wish for a free trade agreement with the US.

According to Axios, the intention of the trade agreement would be to encourage an alliance with the US, instead of Iceland building relationships with Russia and China. Iceland has had a free trade agreement with China since 2014 and when Vice President Pence congratulated Iceland on not participating in the Belt and Road initiative, both the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs quickly corrected him, stating that while Iceland hadn’t yet agreed to participate, no decision to decline participation had been made. China’s Ambassador to Iceland Jin Zhijian has called the Vice President’s comments on the Belt and Road Initiative and Huawei “malicious slander” and “fake news.”

Russia’s Embargo of Iceland Still Stands Four Years Later

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/