Switzerland's external relations in the field of trade in services span over 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), which contains basic obligations such as market access and national treatment.
Switzerland's preferential relations with European partners in the field of trade in services are based on the bilateral agreements in certain sectors with the European Union (EU) and the Convention establishing the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Similar agreements apply with the United Kingdom.
At the bilateral level, 18 free trade agreements (16 of which are within the framework of EFTA) include trade in services. They guarantee greater legal certainty as well as better access to markets of partner countries than the GATS.
Importance of services
The services sector covers many industries, including professional services (e.g. doctors, lawyers, architects), consulting, financial services, tourism, transport and logistics services. Services range from independent individual service suppliers to multinational companies, but also constitutes the largest part of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Services is the most dynamic economic sector, with the highest rate of economic growth. The services sector is a central driving force of the Swiss economy: It accounts for more than 70 percent of the gross value added. Three out of four companies are active in the services sector, more than four out of five newly created companies are services companies and three out of four employees work in the tertiary sector.
Statistics: Services Trade Cockpit
Trade in services policy
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) advises on draft regulations in the various service sectors, and represents Switzerland in international trade negotiations on services. This includes identifying measures that promote the attractiveness of Switzerland as a business and investment location, strengthen its competitiveness and foster job creation in Switzerland.
SECO also ensures that Swiss services suppliers benefit from favourable export conditions, and that they are not discriminated against service suppliers from other countries.