US embassy cable - 06OSLO2


Identifier: 06OSLO2
Wikileaks: View 06OSLO2 at
Origin: Embassy Oslo
Created: 2006-01-01 12:00:00
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS  OSLO 000002 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
1. (SBU) Summary of combined November-December 
monthly highlights: 
* The past year was an exceptionally good one for 
the Norwegian economy:  mainland real GDP grew by 
3.9 percent; offshore petroleum investments reached 
a record high; the value of exports soared on 
account of rising crude oil prices; and the rich 
Government Petroleum Fund topped USD 200 billion. 
* Norway's medium-term economic outlook is bright. 
The Central Bank expects low interest rates to 
contribute to sustained growth, though decelerating 
offshore oil and gas investments could lead to 
somewhat lower economic growth beyond 2006. 
* Norway's Petroleum and Energy Minster confirmed 
that the 19th petroleum concession licensing round, 
which opens up additional Norwegian Sea and Barents 
Sea acreage, will go ahead as planned.  Twenty-four 
firms submitted bids for acreage in these areas in 
* Norway's 2005 offshore oil and gas investment is 
forecast to reach a record USD 13.7 billion. 
* The new center-left government has indicated it 
will cease selling off shares of state-owned or 
controlled companies, including petroleum sector 
leaders Statoil and Norsk Hydro. 
* Norsk Hydro announced that the company has made a 
significant find in Iran's Anaran field and will 
open discussions with Iranian authorities on 
developing the field. 
* Little-known Norwegian petroleum independent DNO 
announced a potential major oil strike in a 
controversial project in Kurdistan and another in 
Yemen, sending the price of its stock soaring. 
* American petroleum service firm National Oilwell 
Varco's $700 million investment in Norway was saved 
when the Renewal Ministry reversed a Competition 
Authority order that the company divest its local 
holdings due to their anti-competitive effect. 
* U.S. petroleum investment in Norway took another 
leap when Texas-based Noble Corp. announced plans 
to purchase the Norwegian offshore drilling 
contractor Smedvig ASA, a $650 million deal. 
* The word's longest (future) undersea natural gas 
pipeline, under construction between northern 
Norway and the UK, has reached the halfway point. 
* Norway will impose stiff new taxes on light 
trucks next year that are expected to slash U.S. 
light truck imports by 90 percent. 
* Russia, citing elevated levels of cadmium and 
other heavy metals in Norwegian salmon, announced 
it would ban Norwegian seafood imports effective 
January 1. 
* Norway will require employers to pay a percentage 
of salaries into private pension funds next year, 
the first measure of its kind in Europe. 
* The new center-left government raised taxes and 
increased public spending in amendments to the 2006 
budget, but signaled that it would not tap into the 
$200 billion petroleum fund for social spending. 
End Summary. 
Norway's Strong 2005 Economic Performance 
2. (U) Norway's economic performance over the past 
year has been impressive.  Norway enjoyed one of 
the highest growth rates among OECD countries. 
Mainland GDP grew by 3.9 percent in real terms over 
the past year.  Record offshore petroleum 
investments, forecast at around USD 14 billion for 
the year, and low interest rates contributed to the 
rapid growth.  High petroleum investment levels 
were spurred by high capital outlays on Norway's 
two leading petroleum projects:  the Snoehvit LNG 
development off Hammerfest and the Ormen Lange gas 
3. (U) The Norwegian economy is still in a cyclical 
upturn.  Unemployment remains low at an average of 
4.5 percent for the year, though December saw an 
uptick to 4.8 percent.  The Consumer Price Index 
edged up slightly in 2005 because of rising energy 
costs, but inflation remained very low at an 
average rate of only 1.5 percent for the year. 
Inexpensive imports from Asia and Central Europe 
continue to dampen inflationary pressures. 
4. (U) With crude oil prices hovering near record 
highs for much of the year, Norwegian merchandise 
exports rose strongly, 19.5 percent by value. 
Norway's current account surplus swelled to USD 46 
billion.  Thanks largely to the growing current 
account surplus, Norway's Government Petroleum Fund 
(GPF), which is invested in overseas bonds and 
equities, rose to USD 209 billion in December.  The 
GPF now roughly equals the United States' largest 
pension fund, the California Public Employees' 
Retirement System. 
Economic Outlook:  Slowing but Solid Growth 
--------------------------------------------- - 
5. (U) According to Central Bank of Norway economic 
projections, continued low interest rates should 
contribute to sustained growth over the coming 
year.  A decline in offshore oil and gas investment 
from current record high levels, however, is 
expected, tending to dampen economic growth.  The 
Central Bank projects that 2006 real mainland GDP 
growth will slow to 3.3 percent from this year's 
3.9 percent.  The Bank forecasts more moderate 
growth in medium term, in the 2.5 percent range in 
2007-2008.  To prevent the economy from 
"overheating," the Norwegian Central Bank raised 
key domestic interest rates (sight deposit rates) 
in November by 25 basis points to 2.25 percent, the 
second rate hike since August. 
Record Norwegian Petroleum Investments 
6. (U) Norway's 2005 offshore oil and gas 
investments are expected to top USD 13.7 billion, a 
new record.  Norwegian Petroleum and Energy 
Minister Odd Roger Enoksen was quoted as saying 
that sharply higher crude oil prices are 
stimulating investment in Norway's offshore 
petroleum sector.  The Snoehvit and Ormen Lange gas 
projects account for the bulk of the investment, 
but increased exploratory drilling is also 
contributing.  Enoksen said that Norway's goal is 
to maintain and build upon its world class 
extraction technology and its expertise in 
environmentally sound exploration and extraction 
techniques.  Looking towards 2006, Snoehvit and 
Ormen Lange investment numbers are expected to 
decline, but total 2006 investment should remain 
high, at around USD 12 billion. 
19th Oil/Gas Licensing Round Goes Forward 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
7.  (SBU) Norway's 19th petroleum concession 
licensing round, which will open additional Barents 
Sea acreage to exploration, is proceeding on 
schedule.  Some observers had feared that Norway's 
new center-left government, which contains elements 
strongly opposed to Barents drilling, might 
sidetrack the round.  Speaking on the margins of a 
London petroleum conference, Petroleum Minister 
Enoksen confirmed that the new government would 
award the full 64 blocks in the Barents and 
Norwegian Seas, as planned by its predecessor. 
Enoksen noted that environmental protection and 
preservation of fishing grounds were important 
concerns, but should not suffer by going forward 
with the new licensing round. 
8. (U) Twenty-four petroleum firms, including all 
U.S. companies active in Norway but ExxonMobil, 
submitted 19th round bids in November for new 
Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea licenses.  The 
Petroleum Ministry expects to award the new 
production licenses towards the end of the first 
quarter of 2006.  Minister of Petroleum Odd Roger 
Enoksen, commenting on the bid submissions, said he 
was "very pleased with the interest the companies 
are demonstrating for new exploration opportunities 
in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea . . . it 
is clear that the competition for acreage is 
increasing also in frontier parts of the shelf." 
Privatization Frozen 
9. (SBU) Petroleum Minister Enoksen confirmed 
reports that the new center-left government would 
not sell additional shares in state-owned Statoil 
and state-controlled Norsk Hydro, Norway's two 
largest oil companies.  The government owns 70.9 
percent of Statoil and 43.8 percent of Norsk Hydro. 
Enoksen's announcement is consistent with the new 
government's stance that further privatization of 
Norway's major state-controlled firms should be 
halted.  Some members of the new government have 
even advocated that the state reacquire shares it 
had previously divested. 
Hydro Strikes it Big in Iran 
10. (U) Norsk Hydro announced in early December 
that the it may have struck significant oil in 
Iran's Anaran field, where it has been exploring in 
partnership with Russia's Lukoil.  Hydro says the 
discovery could possibly be the largest in 20 
years.  Hydro owns 75 percent of the field while 
Russian Lukoil owns the rest.  The company has 
delivered its Development Plan to Iranian 
authorities and will seek to conclude a development 
agreement.  A Hydro executive said Anaran "could 
prove to be one of the most important finds in 
recent years," yielding as much as 200,000 barrels 
per day. 
11. (SBU) Hydro executives say the company is in 
Iran for the long haul.  Spokesman Tor Steinum said 
Hydro intended to initiate talks with Iranian 
officials regarding long-term development projects. 
Hydro CEO Eivind Reiten also emphasized in a public 
statement that Norsk Hydro would pursue exploration 
and development projects in Iran, notably at Anaran 
and in the Khorramabad exploration block.  The 
investments naturally raise Iran-Libya Sanctions 
Act concerns for the United States. 
DNO Strikes it Big in Iraq, Yemen, and Oslo Bourse 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
12. (U) The small, independent Norwegian oil 
company Det Norske Oljeselskap (DNO) announced in 
December that it struck oil with its first well in 
the Kurdish region of Iraq.  DNO has not estimated 
the size of the find, saying that more testing is 
needed, but believes the reservoir could be very 
13. (SBU) DNO entered into a controversial 
exploration agreement with the regional Kurdish 
government, which central authorities in Baghdad 
may or may not have blessed, in 2004.  The new 
Iraqi constitution is reportedly murky on the 
authority granted to regional authorities to enter 
into such arrangements.  DNO Managing Director 
Helge Eide told the press that he was confident 
that the deal was consistent with the new Iraqi 
14. (U) Following on the heels of the Iran news, 
DNO announced in late December that it also may 
have hit oil in Yemen's Nabrajah field.  DNO owns 
56.7 percent of the field, Oil Search (Australia) 
owns 28.3 percent, and the Yemen Company completes 
the partnership with 15 percent.  The announcements 
have propelled the obscure company to the top of 
the most traded list on the Oslo stock exchange and 
have doubled the value of the stock in the last 
Norway Rescinds Divestiture Order to U.S. Oil Firm 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
15. (SBU) In November the Ministry of Renewal 
overturned a National Competition Authority (NCA) 
order to National Oilwell Varco (NOV), a leading 
U.S. petroleum service firm, to divest its assets 
in Norway.  The NCA issued the divestiture order, 
which jeopardized NOV's $700 million local 
investment, because it found that a global merger 
between National Oilwell and Varco had 
anticompetitive effects on the Norwegian 
Continental Shelf.  The Renewal Ministry ruled, 
however, that the NCA had defined the relevant 
market too narrowly in focusing only on the Shelf 
and that the market for drilling equipment was, in 
fact, global.  Embassy staff and NOV executives 
cooperated closely in campaigning for a reversal of 
the divestiture order. 
Texas' Noble Corp to Buy 40 Percent of Smedvig 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
16. (U) U.S. investment in the Norwegian petroleum 
services sector received another boost in December 
when Texas-based Noble Corporation, one of the 
world's largest offshore drilling contractors, 
announced its intent to acquire 40 percent of 
Smedvig ASA, a leading Norwegian offshore drilling 
firm.  The deal is reportedly worth about USD 650 
million.  Smedvig has operations in nine countries 
and a workforce of 3,750 employees, more than half 
outside Norway. 
Ormen Lange Gas Pipeline Halfway to England 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
17. (U) Norsk Hydro's $10 billion Ormen Lange 
project reached a milestone in November when the 
project's subsea gas pipeline, which when completed 
will be the world's longest, reached the half-way 
mark.  The 1,200 kilometer pipeline will run from 
Nyhamna in northwest Norway to Easington in the 
UK.  The pipeline will eventually move some 70 
million cubic meters of gas annually from the Ormen 
Lange field to the UK, providing up to 20 percent 
of Britain's gas supplies. 
Hefty Taxes Likely to Kill U.S. Light Truck Imports 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
18. (SBU) In November, Norway's new left-of-center 
government enacted a hefty new tax on light trucks 
(3.5 to 7.5 tons), effective January 1, 2006.  The 
tax will increase retail prices by 50 to 90 percent 
and severely curtail demand for the vehicles, many 
originating in the U.S.  American automobile 
importers protested the tax and its quick 
implementation deadline, which did not allow 
sufficient time to land vehicles currently in ocean 
transit in Norway.  Faced with significant losses 
on more than 100 trucks ordered before the 
announcement, but still in transit, importers 
lobbied the Finance Ministry for an extension. 
19. (SBU) The Embassy successfully made the 
importers' extension case to the Finance Ministry, 
which agreed just ten days before the deadline to 
postpone the implementation date to April 1.  The 
Embassy and U.S. truck importers, who expect the 
tax to slash sales from more than 1,000 in 2005 to 
100 or so in 2006, will continue to work for its 
Russia, Citing Metal Levels, Bans Norwegian Salmon 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
20. (U) Norway risks losing the Russian market, its 
largest, for fresh and frozen fish if a resolution 
is not found to a dispute over levels of cadmium 
and other metals in Norwegian fish.  Russian 
veterinary inspectors claim to have found unusually 
high heavy metal levels in Norwegian farmed salmon 
and fish feed.  Russian agricultural officials 
announced December 20 that Russia would cease 
buying not only farmed salmon, but all Norwegian 
seafood as of January 1, 2006.  Russia is the 
largest importer of Norwegian fish products, 
purchasing over $200 million worth of Norwegian 
salmon alone in 2005. 
21. (U) Singapore, a large importer of Norwegian 
salmon, subsequently conducted its own inspections 
and concluded that Norwegian farmed salmon 
contained no heavy metals and was safe for 
consumption.  Japan also conducted tests that 
backed up Singapore's results. 
22. (SBU) Fisheries Ministry officials plan to 
discuss the dispute with Russian authorities on 
January 12 in Moscow.  Most observers in Oslo 
believe the measure is politically motivated, 
probably in retaliation for Norway's recent 
seizures of several Russian fishing trawlers 
fishing illegally in its waters.  One Norwegian 
official wondered whether the ban would extend to 
Norwegian fish caught by poaching Russian trawlers. 
New Mandatory Pension Payments to Private Funds 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
23. (U) In an effort to mitigate the financial 
pressure Norway's aging population is placing on 
its generous pensions system, the Parliament 
enacted a bill on December 20 that requires 
employers to pay two percent of an employee's 
salary into private pension funds.  The measure, 
which takes effect July 1, 2006, is the first of 
its kind in Europe.  Annual contributions are 
forecast at between $440-$590 million.  Private 
asset management companies, banks and insurance 
companies are lining up to break into this new 
New Government Raises Taxes and Spending 
24. (SBU) The new center-left government unveiled 
several "socialist-style" measures in its November 
amendments to the 2006 budget adopted by the 
preceding center-right government in October. 
While the revised budget still calls for a surplus 
of USD 38 billion, the new government increased 
spending by USD 1.2 billion and raised taxes by USD 
1.9 billion.  Finance Minster Kristin Halvorsen, 
leader of the Socialist Left Party, justified 
higher tax rates on medium to high incomes and 
higher excise taxes as necessary to finance more 
public spending on local government.  In a more 
fiscally conservative move, Halvorsen indicated 
that the new government would not tap into Norway's 
$200 billion petroleum fund for social spending, as 
many have urged. 
----- Key Economic Indicators for Norway [a] ------ 
- GDP Growth: 
                          Volume Growth [Pct] 
Category                2004  2005  2006 2007 2008 
--------                ----  ----  ---- ---- ---- 
Private Consumption     4.4   3.8   3.8  2.5  2.3 
Public  Consumption     2.3   1.8   2.0  1.8  3.0 
Oil and Gas Investm.   12.3  20.0   2.5 [2.5][5.0] 
Mainland Invest.        6.1   7.8   6.0  3.3  2.5 
Exports                 0.9   3.5   2.7  3.5  3.3 
Imports                 9.1   7.3   4.5  2.3  1.8 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
Mainland GDP            3.5   3.9   3.3  2.5  2.5 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
Total GDP               2.9   2.5   2.8  2.3  2.3 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
- Unempl. Rate[Pct][b]  4.5   4.5   4.0  4.0  4.0 
- Inflation   [Pct][c]  0.4   1.5   2.0  2.0  2.5 
- Wage Growth [Pct]     3.5   3.5   4.3  4.5  4.5 
- Int.Rate [M.Mkt;Pct]  2.0   2.1   2.2  2.2  2.4 
Current Account 
  Balance [NOK Bill]    228   319   416  366  356 
- Crude Oil Price  [d]  257   356   368  311  312 
- Foreign Exch. Rate 
  [NOK/USD]             6.7   6.4 
- U.S. Exports to 
  Norway [USD Bill][e] 1.60  1.83 
- U.S. Imports From 
  Norway [USD Bill][e] 6.51   7.01 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
Notes: [a] Sources: The Ministry of Finance; The 
Norwegian Central Bureau of Statistics [CBS]; The 
Central Bank; [b] Surveyed unemployment; [c] 
Consumer price inflation; [d] Brent Crude Spot 
Price: NOK/Barrel; [e] Source:  USDOC 

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