Icelandic Ambassador confident trade in fish will be free and uninterrupted come Brexit day

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 9 May 2018

ICELAND’S new ambassador to the UK has told Grimsby’s seafood cluster there is an “excellent chance” of a free trade deal being brokered post-Brexit, ensuring an uninterrupted supply of fish.

Stefan Haukur Johannesson made his inaugural visit to the town, taking in the fish market, Grimsby Seafood Village, Port of Immingham and a dinner with industry leaders, prior to a civic reception hosted by the Mayor of North East Lincolnshire, Councillor Ron Shepherd. 

Asked about the free trade deal, highlighted by his predecessor on his final visit in October as a must, Mr Johannesson said: “There are excellent chances. We have a common interest in starting anew. My job in London is to engage with parliamentarians, with the administration, the Department for International Trade  and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to establish connections to present our view. 

MORE: Trade status quo vital for seafood post Brexit - Norwegian seafood chief

“We have a huge interest in continuing to supply. Being able to supply our fisheries products to the UK, our industry leaders have a huge interest in making it possible.”

Traditionally smoked fish cakes and Icelandic pan-seared cod had been enjoyed at The Ship Inn, Barnoldby-le-Beck, before today's official visits. 

There he had met with Mike Woods, chairman of Grimsby Fish Merchants’ Association, Andrew Allard, chairman of Grimsby Fishing Vessel Owners Association and Marcus Coleman, chief executive of Seafish, as well as key leaders of seafood businesses.

Mr Johannesson said: “People here in the Humber are extremely concentrated on the issue. I have been having meetings with different stakeholders to understand what is at stake and making sure we can continue with frictionless open trade. We are the biggest supplier of fresh fish to Grimsby fish Market, 75 per cent of the fish is from Iceland, and in terms of cod we are the biggest supplier to the UK. The UK is the second biggest trading partner with Iceland, and the biggest for fish.

“We have huge interests at stake. I am here to make sure post-Brexit we continue with thriving and open trade relations, and we continue to supply the Humber with fish. You can imagine the interests at stake, we must get this right. There is a good understanding in the administration in London, we are continually having a dialogue which is very good. We need to make sure we all continue to have frictionless open trade, and even strengthen and open up new opportunities as well.” 

The career diplomat has played a key role in Iceland’s dealings with Europe, looking at integration issues with the European Economic Area – the element of Brexit which requires a “new chapter” between two non-European nations, where unlike with Norway, there is no need to cross EU land and face border hold-up potential. He was based in Brussels for five years, and before that Geneva, as a trade negotiator with the World Trade Organisation and European Free Trade Association.

Describing the relationship with the UK through Brexit as "priority number one", he said: "The UK is not only leaving the EU, it is also leaving the EEA, and it is through the EEA that we conduct our business and our relationships with other countries, the four freedoms, including movement of products and people," he said. "This means with the UK leaving the EU, we are closing a chapter but opening a new one, and it is extremely important we get things right so that there is no disruption of trade relations in these new circumstances, and if anything, we can increase and strengthen this relationship." 

Ahead of the appointment as UK Ambassador, he was permanent under secretary to the Foreign Ministry, the highest ministerial office in Iceland. “I know the animal quite well,” he joked of his dealings with the EU, having been part of the team that looked at accession, which was later canned. 

Cllr Shepherd said it was a “fantastic honour and great privilege” to welcome him to Grimsby Town Hall, hearing how he worked in a fish factory as a teenager back in Iceland, growing up on the Westman Islands, off the south west coast. 

Ambassador, we're spoiling you...

Mr Johannesson was presented with traditionally smoked Grimsby haddock during the civic reception. 

Patrick Salmon, owner of Alfred Enderby Ltd, brought the gift direct from the smokehouse, which, having just been listed in Lincolnshire Co-op, is making the county's only protected geographical indication more available.

Of his appointment, Mr Johannesson said: "It is a very interesting, exciting role. London is a vibrant and interesting city, and it is a privilege to represent my country here."

Referring back to his youthful experience, he said: "I have a personal relationship with cod and haddock. It was not always my favourite relationship, but I earned some money and it was a nice way to go into the winter with some pocket money.” 

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