The meeting was co-chaired by Svein Roald Hansen (the Norwegian Parliament), Chair of the EFTA PC and by Jan Atteslander (the Swiss Business Federation), Chair of the EFTA CC. The meeting was the opportunity to discuss pressing issues relating to the EFTA’s free trade agenda such as the global trade environment, digital trade, trade and sustainable development, transparency of trade policy and relations of EFTA countries with the United Kingdom.
“Tensions in international trade policy have continued and along with the coronavirus pandemic, the environment in which our countries have to operate is more disruptive than before”, Mr Hansen said in his opening remarks.
Members of the EFTA advisory bodies had the opportunity to exchange views with the ministers about the opinions they sent to them on the new draft model chapter on e-commerce. Mr Hansen said that he “welcomed the fact that the EFTA States decided with this chapter to have a more systemic approach and to include a dedicated chapter on digital trade in its free trade agreements.” Mr Atteslander complemented by stressing that “it was paramount that the chapter ensures a good balance between the free flow of data and necessary safeguards, including the protection of personal data and avoiding unlawful data collection”. Both chairs welcomed the fact that the opinions of the EFTA advisory bodies were well received by the EFTA Member States which took due account of their proposals in view of finalising the chapter.
The EFTA Ministerial Chair introduced to the members of the EFTA advisory bodies a report summarising 10 years of experience in negotiating and implementing trade and sustainable development chapters in EFTA free trade agreements. The chairs welcomed the intention of EFTA States to step up efforts in the monitoring and implementation of EFTA free trade agreements and to involve the EFTA advisory bodies in this work. The process of updating the EFTA model chapter on trade and sustainable development and the comments provided by the EFTA advisory bodies were further discussed.
Measures to increase the transparency of the EFTA trade policy were presented by the Ministerial Chair. The EFTA advisory bodies welcomed this development. Mr Atteslander said that “with the COVID-19 pandemic, even more people are starting to raise doubts about the importance of free and open trade. It is therefore more important than ever to explain clearly, and in an open and transparent way, about the benefits and advantages of trade”. He was echoed by Mr Hansen who stressed that “It will also be paramount to ensure a more informed public debate about both trade and the EFTA trade agreements. We have to make sure that these agreements are better understood and are actually perceived as beneficial by our citizens”. This issue was also discussed by the EFTA advisory bodies with several experts at their joint meeting that took place in the morning.
Relations between EFTA countries and the United Kingdom were also on the agenda of the meeting. The Ministerial Chair outlined the arrangements concluded by Switzerland. The EEA EFTA Ministers updated the members of the EFTA advisory bodies about the ongoing negotiations with the UK for a free trade agreement and the arrangements that would enter into force by the end of the year to limit disruption with the UK.
The EFTA PC and the EFTA CC are EFTA's advisory bodies. The EFTA PC is a forum of parliamentarians from the four EFTA countries, while the EFTA CC brings together representatives of the trade union confederations and employers’ associations in the four EFTA countries. The mission of both advisory bodies is to scrutinise and provide advice on the EFTA States’ trade relations with third countries as well as on the relations with the EU through the implementation of the EEA Agreement. Both advisory bodies are vital platforms for dialogue and consultation on social, economic and political aspects of the EFTA free trade agreements and the functioning of the EEA.
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