Within the framework of a coherent foreign economic policy, Switzerland aims to conclude FTAs that offer opportunities for sustainable growth, both in Switzerland and in its partner countries. In order to achieve this goal, when negotiating new FTAs and revising existing ones, Switzerland is committed to including specific provisions on trade and sustainable development. These provisions refer to the obligations of the contracting parties in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations. They establish a common frame of reference and the contracting parties undertake to respect this frame of reference in their preferential economic relations in such a way that the economic objectives pursued by the FTAs are consistent with the objectives of the contracting parties in the field of environmental protection and labour rights.
he clauses include, inter alia, a commitment to respect and effectively implement Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions ratified by the contracting parties. Switzerland and its EFTA partners have revised the model chapter on sustainability in 2019. New provisions have been developed on sustainable management of forest resources and fish stocks, trade and biodiversity, trade and climate change, inclusive trade and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The approach to dispute settlement has also been strengthened. The new mechanism allows parties to call on a panel of independent experts to help resolve problems that the traditional consultations have not been able to.
FAQs on sustainable development
The joint committees of the FTAs, which meet regularly, are directly responsible for monitoring compliance with the sustainability provisions. To prepare these meetings, SECO collects information from various sources on the implementation of the commitments made in the sustainability chapters. On the one hand, it consults all the relevant federal offices and the Swiss representations abroad also make a contribution. On the other hand, SECO informs civil society about the meetings of the joint committees and invites them to contribute to the monitoring of the sustainability provisions. Civil society can contribute relevant information in concrete terms to the administration through various forums, such as the EAER's Commission for Economic Policy or the WTO/FHA Liaison Group. The latter is an open forum in which all interested parties can participate. Information on the implementation of the FTAs' provisions on labour standards is also provided and discussed in the Tripartite Federal Commission on Labour Standards of the ILO.
Yes, the commitments made in the chapter on sustainability are binding under international law. Their binding nature is not affected by the fact that Switzerland adopts a cooperative approach in this area. All elements of the dispute resolution mechanism are applicable with the exception of the arbitration procedure (replaced by a panel of experts in the revised Swiss/EFTA approach). The Federal Council firmly believes that a cooperative approach, coupled with targeted support measures on a case-by-case basis, enables better results over the long term than relying solely on the threat of sanctions.
It is not a given that trade agreements will include any provisions on environmental protection and labour rights. Many countries still take the view that such provisions should not be included in trade agreements, particularly because they fear that these standards could be misused for protectionist purposes. By adopting such provisions, Switzerland is attempting to contribute to the development of international trade relations which do not seek economic liberalisation in isolation but promote coherence with other aspects of sustainable development. By anchoring these sustainability commitments in the FTAs, Switzerland also contributes to the implementation of environmental and labour standards at the bilateral level, in addition to the efforts in the relevant multilateral forums.
Last modification 06.10.2020