On 27 June 2023, Ministers from Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland, and the State Secretary for Trade and Industry from Norway, met in Schaan, Liechtenstein, for the annual EFTA Ministerial meeting. Dominique Hasler, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein, chaired the meeting.
Promoting Stability and Resilience in Trade: EFTA Ministers Discuss Impacts of Global Events
EFTA has succeeded in pursuing the trade agenda of its Member States despite the new geopolitical developments affecting world trade. “At a time when the risks of segmentation in global trade and an upsurge in unilateral measures have multiplied, EFTA has continued numerous negotiation processes that bore fruit during 2023. Notably, EFTA Ministers signed a Free Trade Agreement with their Moldovan counterpart, just a few weeks after the European Political Community (EPC) Summit hosted by Moldova,” said Minister Hasler. EFTA and Ukraine opened discussions in July 2022 with a view to exploring the possibility for a modernisation of their free trade agreement from 2010 as a response to the Russian war against Ukraine. The EFTA States are committed to making every effort to conclude the process expeditiously to express their solidarity with Ukraine. The EFTA Ministers, joined virtually by the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy of Ukraine, H.E. Yuliia Svyrydenko, announced the start of the negotiating process towards the modernisation of their agreement. The modernisation will allow the existing free trade agreement to be updated and extended, while adapting it to the new global political and economic challenges.
EFTA Ministers Drive Trade Negotiations
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, H.E. Dorin Recean, accompanied by the Minister of Economic Development and Digitalization, H.E. Dumitru Alaiba, and the EFTA Ministers, gathered in Schaan to sign a free trade agreement, two years after the first round of negotiations. The ambitious and far-reaching agreement between EFTA and the Republic of Moldova covers trade in goods and services, establishment, intellectual property rights, competition, public procurement, trade and sustainable development, as well as legal and horizontal provisions. It also contains a chapter on e-commerce, a first time for an EFTA FTA to include such a chapter.
EFTA Ministers moreover met with the Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations of Singapore, H.E. S. Iswaran, to take stock of their ongoing negotiations of a Digital Economy Agreement (DEA). They welcomed the significant progress achieved since the formal launch in mid-February 2023 and encouraged experts to maintain a high pace of negotiation for an ambitious agreement, while expressing confidence that an agreement in substance could be reached by the end of the year.
The Ministerial meeting was also marked by an online meeting with the Minister of Commerce and Industry of India, H.E. Piyush Goyal, reflecting the positive momentum that has built up in recent months towards a formal resumption of negotiations between EFTA and India on a free trade agreement.
Ministers also discussed ongoing negotiations with Chile, Kosovo, Malaysia, and Vietnam and took stock of the status of discussions. They confirmed their willingness to work at high pace to make progress in these processes to further develop EFTA’s free trade network. Furthermore, Ministers expressed their willingness to finalise the agreement concluded in principle with Mercosur in 2019.
EFTA Ministers Strengthen Horizontal Initiatives and Highlight Key Achievements
EFTA Ministers emphasised the importance of the effective implementation of existing trade agreements, notably the strengthened chapter on trade and sustainable development. They welcomed the functioning of the mechanism for systematic monitoring of compliance with commitments under that chapter, a process that had already proven successful with several partner countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines over the past year. In addition, EFTA Ministers took note of the sustainability impact assessment being undertaken on the prospective free trade agreement with Thailand, where a final report is expected at the beginning of next year.
Ministers expressed their appreciation for the ongoing efforts in assessing FTA preference utilisation rates, which provide valuable insights into the real use of EFTA agreements by businesses. The second comprehensive report on preference utilisation, the EFTA FTA Monitor, is available on the EFTA website.
EFTA Ministers also welcomed the establishment of an EFTA model chapter on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to be included in EFTA’s free trade agreements for which consultations of the EFTA Advisory Bodies had been launched.
Relations with the EU
Ministers were determined to continue the close cooperation with the EU on measures related to Russia´s war of aggression against Ukraine and underlined the importance of a common response.
Ministers welcomed the fact that the number of legal acts awaiting incorporation into the EEA Agreement had decreased in 2023. They stressed the importance of legal certainty and homogeneity in the EEA and reiterated the EEA EFTA States’ commitment to further reduce the number of acts outstanding.
They stressed the importance of preparing for new EU proposals and underlined the need to continue the work on new EU initiatives with distinct horizontal dimensions, including those relating to trade policy.
Ministers emphasised the importance of pursuing outreach activities to strengthen knowledge of the EEA Agreement, including in relation to the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the EEA Agreement. They appreciated that the EFTA House is continuously used for this purpose.
Ministers underlined that the EEA EFTA States are an integral part of the Internal Market, European supply chains and the European twin transitions and invited the EU to take its EEA obligations into account also in other relevant areas including its trade policy.
Relations between Switzerland and the EU
Ministers were informed of the status and prospects of the relations between Switzerland and the European Union. As a result of a decision taken by the Swiss Federal Council (government) in February 2022, Switzerland and the EU have a held a series of exploratory and technical talks based on a new package of agreements, with a view to stabilising and further developing their mutually beneficial bilateral relations. At its meeting on 21 June 2023, the Federal Council approved the parameters for a negotiating mandate with the EU. Discussions with the EU Commission will continue on this basis in order to resolve any issues outstanding and pave the way for a formal negotiation mandate.
EFTA Advisory Bodies: a continued dialogue
EFTA Ministers appreciated their regular dialogue held with the EFTA Advisory Bodies. They met with the EFTA Parliamentary Committee and the EFTA Consultative Committee in a joint meeting. The parliamentarians from the four EFTA States, together with the representatives from trade unions and employers’ organisations from the four EFTA States, discussed the state of play of EFTA third-country relations.
Appointment of next Secretary-General
Ministers appointed Ambassador Kurt Jäger of Liechtenstein to succeed Secretary-General Henri Gétaz on 1 September 2024. Mr Jäger is the first Liechtensteiner to serve EFTA in this position.
Liechtenstein (Chair): Ms Dominique Hasler, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Education and Sport
Iceland: Ms Thórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörd Gylfadóttir, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Norway: Mr Halvard Ingebrigtsen, State Secretary of Trade and Industry of Norway
Switzerland: Mr Guy Parmelin, Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research
EFTA: Mr Henri Gétaz, Secretary-General
High-resolution pictures of the Ministerial meeting
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