Future trade priorities discussed by EFTA legislators and social partners with the EFTA Ministerial Chair

Published 22-11-2022
Björg Ásta Þórðardóttir - Acting Chair of the EFTA Consultative Committee and Ingibjörg Isaksen - Chair of the EFTA Parliamentary Committee

“We need to use EFTA as a privileged platform for dialogue, information sharing and political coordination between our countries. There are plenty of transnational challenges that we need to tackle together, and we should use our Association for that purpose as well”, said Ingibjörg Ólöf Isaksen (the Icelandic Parliament) Chair of the EFTA Parliamentary Committee (EFTA PC). The EFTA PC met with the EFTA Consultative Committee (EFTA CC) and the Liechtenstein Ambassador Kurt Jäger, who was representing the Ministerial Chair of the EFTA Council at the EFTA House in Brussels on Tuesday 22 November.

The meeting provided the opportunity to look ahead and discuss the political priorities of the Liechtenstein chairmanship of the EFTA Council – the political governing body of EFTA. This included the state of play of EFTA’s support to Ukraine; the outcome of the EFTA PC delegation’s visit to Thailand; current third-country trade processes across the globe; and horizontal trade-related initiatives undertaken by the EFTA countries.

The meeting was co-chaired by Ms Isaksen and by Björg Ásta Þórðardóttir, representing the Chair of the EFTA CC.

Discussing the situation in Ukraine and the support measures that could be decided at EFTA level, the Liechtenstein Ambassador, on behalf of his Minister, said that the EFTA countries had signalled to their Ukrainian counterparts their “willingness to consider a modernisation of the EFTA-Ukraine free trade agreement. A first round of consultations would take place in mid-December”, he added.

Ms Isaksen gave account of the EFTA PC delegation visit to Thailand. “Our interlocutors were well informed and positive about the prospects of negotiating a trade agreement with EFTA. However, representatives of Thai civil society organisations raised their concerns on the protection of intellectual property rights in the food and health sectors as well as with respect to labour rights.”

While taking stock of the latest developments of third-country processes, Ms Þórðardóttir stressed that “We hope that a sustainable solution can be found regarding the ongoing negotiations with Mercosur to protect the environment and avoid deforestation in the region. With the recent elections that took place in Brazil, we are hopeful that it will pave the way to conclude negotiations with this important partner.”  

The meeting also provided the opportunity to assess the advancement of horizontal processes such as the monitoring of commitments taken under the trade and sustainable development chapters; the assessment of the sustainability impact of EFTA free trade agreements; the utilisation of EFTA free trade agreements by EFTA economic operators and ways to improve their usage; and the new initiative to elaborate a model chapter on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in EFTA free trade agreements. On the latter, Ambassador Jäger said that “EFTA would like to account for the important role played by SMEs in the economies of the EFTA States and offer them commercially meaningful provisions”.

Kurt Jäger - Ambassador of Liechtenstein, Henri Gétaz - EFTA Secretary-General, Siri Veseth Meling - EFTA Deputy Secretary-General, Andri Lúthersson - EFTA Deputy Secretary-General

Throughout the day, both Committees held joint sessions to discuss important trade topics with officials of the EU institutions and think tank representatives. Empowering SMEs in free trade agreements; the revamped EU approach on trade and sustainable development; and the EU-US Trade and Technology Council featured on the agenda of EFTA parliamentarians and social partners.

The EFTA CC convened for their 227th internal meeting. There they elected Kristin Hansen from the Norwegian Employers as the Chair of the Committee for 2023 and adopted a comprehensive and ambitious work programme for next year. Further, the social partners had a conversation on the state of play of EEA EFTA relations with the United Kingdom and on the role of social partners in the upcoming sustainability impact assessment of EFTA.

The EFTA PC also held its 128th meeting to debate current measures discussed at EU level to mitigate the surge in energy prices as well as the ongoing negotiations between the EU and India on a free trade agreement. Heads of delegation gave account of the latest political developments that occurred in their respective countries since the last meeting. The Committee also elected Trine Lise Sundnes (the Norwegian Parliament) as Chair of the EFTA PC in 2023 and endorsed its work programme for next year.

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 countries’ trade relations with third countries as well as on the relations with the EU through the implementation of the EEA Agreement.

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