For decades, people in the Nordic countries have been able to move freely and trade services and goods across borders. COVID-19 showed us that this freedom cannot be taken for granted. In this report, the National Board of Trade Sweden identifies several areas where Nordic co-operation can be improved. Anders Ahnlid, Director-General, tells more.

We have identified important areas where increased co-operation could improve the common Nordic market. This market is an important part of the EU internal market. Our investigation is based on the National Board of Trade's mission and contacts with our Nordic counterparts. If we are to make progress, the Nordic co-operation must give higher priority to trade relations, both politically and at the government agency level.

Why is co-operation between the Nordic countries important?

The Nordic market is very important, not only for the Nordic countries themselves, but also for the world economy. Together, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland constitute one of the world's ten largest economies. In Europe, the Nordic region with its 27 million inhabitants, is the fifth largest economy.

The Nordic Prime Ministers have envisaged that the Nordic region will be the world's most sustainable and integrated region by 2030. Therefore, there are strong reasons to increase efforts to facilitate trade between the Nordic countries and to tackle unjustified barriers to trade.

How has the pandemic affected integration between the Nordic countries?

The fact that the borders were suddenly closed between the Nordic countries made life difficult for people who live in one country and work in another as well as for service providers who have customers in several Nordic countries. We moved towards a more closed Nordic region where each country takes care of itself. Turning this development around is important, not least for these commuters and companies.

The Nordic countries are all part of the EU's internal market with free movement of goods, services, capital, and persons. Do these EU rules not take care of integration in the Nordic countries?

We must dare tackle Nordic issues while simultaneously working on improving the functioning of the internal market. The internal market legal framework offers opportunities for enhanced co-operation between a smaller group of countries. We should learn from the developments of recent years and, in future crises, insist that the relatively small Nordic countries, with many things in common, can achieve greater goals if we work together, instead of standing alone.

What are the main takeaways from the report?

There is room for increased Nordic co-operation on the implementation of EU legislation. Different interpretations of common EU legislation must not become a barrier to trade for companies doing business in the Nordic countries. Another area that could be suitable for closer co-operation is making it easier for companies to sell an already approved product in another EU country, in accordance with the principle of mutual recognition of goods.

You point out that Nordic standards can facilitate trade between the Nordic countries. But shouldn't standards be adopted on a higher level?

Standards are most effective when adopted at the highest possible level. However, there could be special reasons for adopting a regional standard to deal with a regional problem. One such example can be found in the construction sector, where a Nordic standard was developed for roof beams, to ensure that they can carry large amounts of snow. It was later adopted as a European standard.

There are also common Nordic standards for fire protection and cleaning services. There are probably additional areas where the Nordic countries could set standards that could then be extended to apply in the EU or even globally.