Norway/Sweden: Beer smuggling hits record levels

Beer smuggling at the Svinesund border between Sweden and Norway has hit a record level in the first half year of 2017. In the six months from January to June 2017 Norwegian customs officers have seized over 140,000 liters of beer (+40%)  and 20,000 liters of spirits (+50%) which is already more than in the whole of last year.

The reason is not only the high tax on alcohol but even more the high overall price level in Norway. The country profits from its oil wealth, with revenues stemming from oil being wisely invested over the last decades. Nowadays the revenues from the state-owned Norwegian oil fund even exceeds revenue from oil, which makes each of the 5.1 million Norwegian on paper a krone millionaire (one Norwegian krone equals about $0.124).

Nordic countries have the steepest food prices in Europe. A basket of food and non-alcoholic beverages based on about 440 products compiled by Eurostat in 2016 showed that Norway had the highest price level in Europe at 159% (only topped by Switzerland at staggering 173%) followed by Denmark (145%), Iceland (130%) and Sweden (124%). Central European countries like Germany (103%), Benelux and France (109%) range in the middle and Balkan states like Macedonia (58%), Romania (64%), Albania (68%), Serbia (69%) and Bulgaria (70%) can be found at the end of the list.

Even more obvious is the price level for alcoholic beverages as can be seen by Eurostat’s list of 2016. Norway clearly leads the pack at 250%, followed by Iceland (226%), Finland (172%), Sweden (141%) and Denmark (138%). Other countries high up on the list are also Turkey (190%), Ireland (175%), United Kingdom (163%) and Switzerland (121%). Comparatively cheap is alcohol in France (86%), Benelux and Germany (84%) with Balkan states again being the cheapest (Macedonia 61%, Romania 72%, Serbia 68%, Bulgaria 64%).

The price difference for alcoholic beverage in Norway and Sweden, which is according to Eurostat’s list higher than 100%, is the driving force for many Norwegians to cross the border to buy comparatively cheap booze in Sweden.

But it is not only private people to profit from price differences between the two Nordic states: “It is expensive to buy [alcohol] in shops and organized criminals import beer and spirits on a large scale. We often seize cars and trucks that have been tampered with, for example the shock absorbers and suspension, making them unroadworthy. We take in a significant number of such vehicles,” Kristian Grandahl, head of the Svinesund customs office, told the Swedish radio broadcaster P4 Väst.

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