The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries acted unilaterally when he raised import tolls based on price rather than weight, going against the opinions of his advisors and possibly violating the constitution.
As Grapevine reported, an export-driven lamb market has created an artificial shortage of lamb meat for Iceland’s domestic market – meat distributors cannot afford to pay what slaughterhouses are asking for lamb meat and still turn a profit. This has prompted meat distributors to beseech Minister of Agriculture Jón Bjarnason to allow for the importing of lamb meat, which he has refused to do.
This has caused its own share of conflicts, with many criticising the minister for not considering the Icelandic consumer in the equation, while the minister contends he is protecting Iceland’s sheep farmers and the quality of Icelandic food.
It has now come to light – a month after the parliamentary ombudsman suggested that the minister’s protectionist policies were in violation of the constitution – that the minister acted unilaterally when he raised import tolls on agricultural goods.
Basing the import tolls on the price of the product rather than their weight has sharply increased the price of imported agricultural goods, and goes against the opinions of the minister’s own advisors.
Nonetheless, Jón justifies the move, saying in a statement to parliament that the decision was made “in light of the circumstances that arose here after the bank collapse of 2008. … The decision was made in harmony with the joint platform of the ruling coalition to be protective regarding imported goods and jobs in food distribution.”
If the minister’s decision is indeed unconstitutional, what the next step will be – reversing the decision, calling for his resignation, or adopting new legislation – is as yet still unclear.