By Stine Jacobsen
OSLO (Reuters) - Britain should stay as closely connected to Europe's single market as it can after it leaves the European Union, the trade minister of non-EU member Norway said on Tuesday.
The Nordic country, which pays hundreds of millions of euros to access the European internal market from outside the bloc, has been held up by some, especially Brexit supporters, as a potential model for post-Brexit Britain to follow.
"Britain is perhaps our most important economic partner. We want the future cooperation and trade conditions to be as good as today," Trade and Industry Minister Monica Maeland said in a statement.
"The best for Norway is a 'soft Brexit', which would keep Britain as closely tied to the common market as possible," she added.
Maeland's comments came after a meeting on Monday of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Switzerland's president said on Monday his country would consider letting Britain join the association after Brexit..
But Maeland told Reuters that the association had not discussed the idea at a meeting on Monday as Britain had not asked to join.
"Britain has not given any signal that it wishes to become a member of EFTA or that it wants to be part of the EEA agreement," Maeland said in an emailed statement, referring to the European Economic Area, which includes the EU countries as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
"Should Britain wish to apply, this would of course be discussed by EFTA. Any state can apply for membership but it requires consensus from the member-states."
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is hoping to negotiate a "bespoke" deal with Brussels - one that would allow Britain to control immigration while maximizing trade.
(Writing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Larry King)