Iceland - International trade
Historically, Iceland has been late in joining major trade agreements. It joined the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1968 and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1970. It entered into a free trade agreement covering all industrial products with the European Economic Community (now called the EU) in 1972. In the 1990s, Iceland was the last of the EFTA countries to ratify the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA) and did so only after the longest debate in the history of the Althingi . It comes then as no surprise that Iceland has decided at the moment not to become a full member of the EU. Self-protection and self-preservation have characterized Iceland's foreign trade policy since its independence from Denmark.
Iceland's international treaties have strengthened foreign trade. Membership in the EEA in 1994 and the Uruguay Round agreement brought greater market access for Iceland's exports, capital, labor, and goods and services, especially seafood products. Agriculture is heavily subsidized and protected by the government, with some tariffs ranging as high as 700 percent.
|Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Iceland|
|SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.|
The question of Iceland's relationship with the EU and its possibility of becoming a member depend heavily on protection and control of its fishing industry and natural resources. The Icelandic government and the people pay close attention to the EU's resource policy, especially the Common Fisheries Policy, which is based on the premise that fisheries resources are in principle the common property of the member EU states. While this policy may not be a major obstacle to Iceland joining the EU, it could prove to be a stumbling block, calling for a creative solution in order for Icelanders to be comfortable with EU membership.
In 1999, Iceland had total exports of US$2.0 billion and imports of US$2.489 billion. Iceland's trade deficit widened in 2000 due to rapid import growth coinciding with a slow rise in exports. Exports did increase by 3 percent despite a slight contraction in the export of marine products. In 2000, marine exports accounted for 6 percent of total exports as compared with 68 percent in 1999. The drop in marine exports was attributed to a 31 percent growth in the value of aluminum exports—the result of increased production and favorable world prices.
In 1999, 69 percent of Iceland's exports and 66 percent of its imports came from trade with EEA countries. Germany and the United Kingdom are Iceland's most important trading partners in the EEA, with Germany accounting for 13.1 percent of Iceland's exports and 11.8 percent of its imports, and the U.K. accounting for 19.7 percent of exports and 9.2 percent of imports. The United States is the single largest trading partner outside the EEA, with 14.7 percent of exports and 10.9 percent of imports.