Parliamentarians and social partners give momentum to EFTA trade agenda

Published 22-11-2023

On 21 November 2023, the EFTA Parliamentary Committee (PC) and EFTA Consultative Committee (CC) met with Helene Budliger Artieda, Swiss State Secretary for Economic Affairs, representing the EFTA Ministerial Chair, to take stock of ongoing and prospective EFTA trade processes and horizontal initiatives.

The meeting included a discussion on topical issues such as the state of play of EFTA’s trade modernisation process with Ukraine, trade relations with countries in South-East Asia such as India, Thailand and Singapore, EFTA’s ongoing process with Mercosur, and trade potential in Sub-Saharan Africa. With regard to horizontal policies, the participants spoke about a joint opinion of the committees on the inclusion of a draft model chapter on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The meeting was co-chaired by Trine Lise Sundnes on behalf of the EFTA PC, and by Kristin Hansen on behalf of the EFTA CC.

Welcome efforts on India negotiations

The Chair of the EFTA PC inquired about the state of play of negotiations on the modernisation of the EFTA-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. The Swiss State Secretary stated that a first round of negotiations would possibly take place during the first semester of 2024. Ms Sundnes commended the EFTA countries on “the joint efforts that are being deployed to advance this important process”.

Ms Sundnes further remarked that the EFTA PC had undertaken a working visit to India earlier this year to lend its support to negotiations with that partner.

The trade process with the Mercosur countries – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – was discussed, and the EFTA PC Chair said that the committee would visit countries in the region in 2024 to gather information on the trade process and encourage its conclusion. EFTA and Mercosur concluded negotiations in substance in 2019 but contacts have continued between the parties.

Untapped potential for mutually beneficial trade

The EFTA CC Chair encouraged the EFTA countries to review the potential for mutually beneficial trade in Sub-Saharan Africa, adding that “the continent could become a major participant in global supply chains for high-technology sectors”.

Ms Hansen also expressed gratitude on behalf of the EFTA CC regarding the consultation process on EFTA’s new draft chapter on SMEs. The EFTA Advisory Bodies had addressed a joint opinion to the EFTA Ministers underlining that “the main points we make in the letter are that we believe the good implementation of the chapter is key – this would include resource allocation and capacity building”.

New Chairs for 2024

Prior to their meeting with the Swiss State Secretary, both Advisory Bodies held internal meetings. The EFTA CC elected Sigríður Mogensen from the Federation of Icelandic Industries as its Chair for 2024 and further adopted its Work Programme for 2024. The committee members continued discussing the future of EFTA trade cooperation in a changed geopolitical context.

The EFTA PC discussed the EU’s Global Gateway and Economic Security Strategy, and elected Thomas Aeschi from the Swiss parliamentary delegation as its Chair for 2024.

The EFTA PC and EFTA CC meet on a regular basis with ministers and high-level officials from the EFTA countries to advise on and review the EFTA trade agenda. The EFTA PC is a forum of parliamentarians from the four EFTA countries, while the EFTA CC brings together representatives of trade union confederations and employers’ associations from the Member States. The mission of both Advisory Bodies is to scrutinise issues that are relevant to their stakeholders and provide advice on the EFTA countries’ trade relations with third countries, as well as on relations with the EU through the implementation of the EEA Agreement.

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