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TRADE

Norwegian shoppers splash cash in Sweden

Norwegians spent 11.5 billion Norwegian kroner ($2 billion) during one-day shopping trips to Sweden last year, meaning almost 6 percent of Norway's consumer food and beverage trade has migrated to Sweden.

Norway's cross-border commerce increased by nine percent to 11.5 billion kroner in 2011, according to figures from Norwegian statistics agency SSB, with 94 percent of the trade consisting of one-day shopping trips to Sweden.

The trend has caused concern among Norway's business community as well as with the Norwegian state, which last year lost an estimated 2.5 billion kroner worth of revenues in taxes and fees.

"We're concerned because this is a huge amount of turnover that Norwegian traders miss out on. They and their supplier are losing lots of jobs," Thomas Angell of the Norwegian business trade association Virke Handel told news agency NTB.

According to his estimates, Norwegian firms have lost around 10,000 jobs as a result of Norwegians taking their business to Sweden.

Just over half of Norwegians' spending in Sweden, 52 percent, takes place in Strömstad and Svenesund in Bohuslän in south-western Sweden.

Charlottenberg and Arvika in Värmland County, meanwhile, account for 19 percent.

The trend has even prompted the right-wing populist Fremskrittspartiet to demand a debate about the issue in the Norwegian parliament.

According to SSB's figures, it's not simply cheap booze that attracts Norwegians to Sweden.

And sales statistics from Swedish liquor store monopoly Systembolaget show that turnover at stores located near the Norwegian border only increased by 0.6 percent, compared with the 9 percent overall increase in cross-border trade.

Another contributing factor may have been the Norwegian butter shortage which took place before Christmas, according to Sten Magne Berglund of the Norwegian temperance association Actis.

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SHOPPING

‘Harryhandel’: Is the return of cross-border shopping in Norway really a good thing? 

The pandemic cut-off Norway from its neighbours, putting a temporary end to border shopping. Now ‘harryhandel’ trips are allowed again businesses in the country fear they will lose out as shoppers look abroad for cheaper groceries. 

Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge.
Will the return of border shopping have a negative affect on the country? Pictured is Norway and Sweden's border on the old Svinesund bridge. Photo by Petter Bernsten/AFP.

In eastern Norway, particularly along the border with Sweden, cross-border shopping has long been common for residents looking for cheaper groceries and a better selection of products. 

Norway’s Covid-19 rules effectively put a stop to that until this summer. The closed border meant a record year for food and beverage sales in Norway. 

“Due to the fact that there was little action and that people did not travel, we noticed that our sales increased greatly during the entire period,” Øyvind Berg, production manager at Norwegian dairy firm Synnøve Finden, explained to public broadcaster NRK.

Now producers and supermarkets fear the impact of cross-border shopping being up and running again. 

“Our challenge is that we see that more than half of the food and beverage producers, i.e. the industrial companies, fear that they will lose market share because cross-border trade will return in full,” Petter Brubakk, director of food and beverage at the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), informed NRK. 

The majority of those who go shopping across borders in Norway will do so in Sweden. However, in the north, some will also venture into Finland or Russia.

Further south people will also travel to Germany or Denmark. 

Why do people go to other countries for shopping? 

Overall the main appeal of cross-border shopping is that its much better for consumers than shopping domestically. 

Norway’s EEA agreement with the EU means that most foods, drinks, tobacco products, alcohol and other agricultural products are more expensive than they are within the EU as custom duties are required to import them into Norwegian supermarkets. 

Not just that, but there is a much wider selection of products than in Norway due to laws that protect Norwegian products. For example, cheeses such as Cheddar are more readily available, cheaper and generally of better quality in other countries than those found in Norway. 

READ MORE: What is ‘harryhandel’, and why do Norwegians love it so much?

Is border shopping a bad thing for Norway?

Norwegian businesses argue that crossing the border to shop affects the whole value chain, negatively impacting everyone from Norwegian farms and producers to supermarket employees, not just companies profit margins. 

“My advice is to encourage Norwegians to buy Norwegian food, and help secure Norwegian jobs throughout the value chain,” food and agriculture minister Sandra Borch told NRK. 

In addition, shopping domestically means more tax revenue for the Norwegian system to use to fund its generous welfare state. 

While shopping domestically protects domestic jobs, shopping abroad protects jobs there, which rely on people hopping the border to get their groceries. 

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions left a black hole in some of these economies reliant on shoppers from the Norwegian side of the border. For example, in Strömstad, a Swedish town close to the border where many travel to shop, unemployment rose by around 75 percent after Norway closed its borders with Sweden. 

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