Switzerland's external relations in the field of trade in services are structured on three levels, namely multilateral, European and bilateral with third countries.
At the multilateral level, trade in services is governed in particular by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose basic obligations include market access and national treatment.
Switzerland's preferential relations with its European partners in the field of trade in services are based on the bilateral agreements with the European Union (EU) and the Convention establishing the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Bilaterally, Switzerland has a network of 18 free trade agreements (16 of which are within the framework of EFTA) that include trade in services and guarantee greater legal certainty as well as better market access with its partners than under the GATS.
What does trade in services include?
Trade in services covers many sectors, including the liberal professions (doctors, lawyers and other legal services, architects, engineers), business services (such as marketing, advertising or consulting), postal and telecommunication services, distribution and brokerage, financial services (banks, insurance, stock exchanges, securities services), tourism (hotels, restaurants, guides), transport and logistics, cultural and audiovisual services, health, education, construction, energy and environment and other services related to the production and processing of industrial, agricultural and mining products.
Importance of services for the Swiss economy
As the most dynamic sector in Europe and worldwide, the service sector has the highest rate of economic growth. For Switzerland too, the service sector is a central driving force of the economy: It accounts for more than 70 percent of the gross value added. Three out of four companies are active in the service sector, more than four out of five newly created companies are service companies and three out of four employees work in the tertiary sector.
The world of services ranges from independent individual service suppliers to multinational companies, but also constitutes the largest part of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
In 2019, Switzerland’s trade in services was CHF 224bn, with a trade surplus of CHF 18bn. financial services (24%) is the most important export sector, followed by tourism (14%), transport (11%) and telecommunication, computer and information services (9%).