Historical development of the network of free trade agreements
To a large extent, Switzerland’s network of free trade agreements consists of agreements concluded jointly with its fellow EFTA member states.
In the first phase (beginning in the early 1990s), EFTA members mainly concluded free trade agreements with Central and Eastern European countries, following initial agreements with Turkey and Israel. As well as improving mutual market access, these free trade agreements, which EFTA signed at the same time as similar EU agreements with these countries, also served to support economic reforms in the Central and Eastern European countries in transition. Eight of these free trade agreements were terminated on 1 May 2004, two on 1 January 2007 and one on 1 July 2013 as the corresponding partner countries joined the EU on these dates. Free trade relations between Switzerland and the new EU member states remain in place but are now based on the Swiss-EU free trade agreement of 1972. Currently, EFTA free trade agreements are in force with North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Ukraine, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia.
The network of EFTA agreements in the Mediterranean was expanded from the mid-1990s onwards as EFTA members looked to step up their integration in the Euro-Mediterranean economic area. As part of these efforts, Switzerland is also actively involved in the work to modernise the Regional Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin. By signing these free trade agreements, the EFTA members are also helping to promote Euro-Mediterranean economic cooperation. EFTA has so far concluded free trade agreements with eight Mediterranean partners: Turkey, Israel, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt. A modernised and expanded treaty was signed with Turkey on 25 June 2018.
In response to the global trend towards concluding regional and, increasingly, supraregional free trade agreements, in the late 1990s the EFTA member states began to include global partners in the focus of their free trade policy as well. Since then, corresponding agreements have been signed with Mexico, Singapore, Chile, South Korea, the SACU countries (Southern African Customs Union: Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa and Eswatini), Canada, Colombia, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman), Peru, Hong Kong, the Central American countries (Panama and Costa Rica; probably Guatemala) and the Philippines. A free trade agreement was signed with Ecuador on 25 June 2018 and another with Indonesia on 16 December 2018. Negotiations with India, Vietnam and Malaysia are ongoing. In summer 2020, the the negotiations with the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) were concluded in substance.
At the bilateral level, the Agreement on Free Trade and Economic Partnership between Switzerland and Japan has been in force since September 2009. Switzerland was the first European country to sign a treaty of this kind with Japan. In addition, a bilateral free trade agreement between Switzerland and China came into effect on 1 July 2014. China is the world’s second-largest economy behind the USA and Switzerland’s third most important trade partner after the EU and the USA. Switzerland also has a bilateral FTA with the Faroe Islands.
Furthermore, Switzerland and the other EFTA states are engaged in dialogue with other potential partners including Moldova and Thailand to examine the possibility of establishing free trade relations.
An overview of Switzerland’s current network of free trade agreements as well as negotiations that are either under way or being prepared can be found under the heading Free trade partner of Switzerland.