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Price of vice: Norway eyes cut in ‘sin’ tax on alcohol, sugar to spur spending

“We have always known there were many people who went to shop in Sweden, but not that it was so many, and for so much.”

In Halden, a town 12 km from the border, sales at the local wine and liquor store tripled during the summer months compared with last year, with vodka priced at 400 crowns ($42) a liter snapped up by more tourists and holiday cabin owners.

“We also sell much more boxed wine. People don’t just buy one or two boxes, but four or five at a time,” said store manager Anneli Christiansen, who had to hire four more staff at the start of lockdown in March to handle soaring demand.

“SO EMPTY” ON SWEDISH SIDE

Towns on the Swedish side of the border, by contrast are starved of trade these days.

Many shopping malls sprang up in recent decades to cater almost exclusively to Norwegians, but now sit nearly empty.

In the municipality of Aarjaeng, trade with Norway supports about a third of jobs, said municipal board chairman Daniel Schuetzer. “It has been so empty in the area. There is a certain resignation – people wonder how they are going to make ends meet when a large part of your market disappears overnight.”

Others worry about future ties between two countries that have placed free movement of people and goods at the core of their relationship, well before much of the rest of Europe did.

Georg Andren, governor of Sweden’s Vaermland region, said that companies may be less willing to invest there, and, in the longer term, “what is at stake is the social fabric.”

The Norwegian Conservatives’ proposed tax cut has elicited broad political support, although their coalition ally the Christian Democrats oppose lowering levies on alcohol.

The rightist opposition Progress Party, which generally backs government budgets, has swung behind the proposal in keeping with its view that Norwegians’ heavy tax burden should be eased across the board.

(Editing by Gwladys Fouche, Mark Heinrich and Carmel Crimmins)

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