Trade in Services

Trade in services

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.

Importance of services

The service sector covers many industries, including professional services (e.g. doctors, lawyers, architects) consulting, financial services, tourism, transport and logistics. 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).

As the most dynamic sector in Europe and worldwide, the service sector has the highest rate of economic growth. The service sector is also 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 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 “Services Trade Cockpit” gives a new overview of the most important trade in services statistics (see pdf below). In 2019, the Swiss trade in services volume accounted for 252 billion Swiss Francs, with a surplus of around 9 billion Swiss Francs. That is more than one third of total trade. Between 2013 and 2019, trade in services saw an average growth of 3,2 percent per year. The EU is the most important trading partner. Looking at individual countries, the USA is at the top, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom. Seven European countries are among the top 10 trading partners. The most important sectors are license fees and financial services, followed by tourism, transport and ICT. However, R&D records the strongest growth.

SECO's role in trade in services policy 

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) takes position on draft regulations in the various service sectors, develops Switzerland's position and represents it in international negotiations. This includes identifying measures that promote the attractiveness of Switzerland as a business and investment location, strengthen its competitiveness and foster the creation of jobs in Switzerland.

It is also about ensuring that Swiss service suppliers benefit from favourable conditions for their exports abroad, and that they are not discriminated against compared to service suppliers in other countries.

Last modification 04.03.2021

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