In view of the limited size of the available domestic market, access to foreign markets is of crucial importance to Swiss producers. The following provide the foundation of Swiss policy on opening up markets to trade:
- Membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
- 1972 free trade agreement with the EUFree trade agreements with countries outside the EU (within the EFTA or bilaterally)
- Unilateral measures (Generalized System of Preferences, tariff exemptions, tariff reductions, etc.).
Lower tariffs improve market access for Swiss exports and also reduce the cost of importing. Tariff reductions within the WTO make it easier for Swiss companies to sell their output on foreign markets. The preferential bilateral tariffs set under free trade agreements make Swiss businesses more competitive. The bilateral agreements between Switzerland or EFTA and third countries make it easier to trade industrial and agricultural goods. In addition, under the Generalized System of Preferences Switzerland unilaterally grants preferential tariffs on products imported from developing countries. Customs procedures are aligned with the needs of the business community to ensure that goods imports and exports are as barrier-free as possible.
Under the Customs Tariff Act (SR 632.10), when the interests of the Swiss economy so require the Federal Council may reduce duties appropriately, temporarily suspend or lower the duties applicable to certain goods, and set tariff quotas. The Federal Council produces an annual report on the application of customs tariffs. It is published in tandem with the Swiss Foreign Economic Policy Report.
Aside from import tariffs, goods movements are often also hindered by export duties. Switzerland does not currently apply any such duties. In fact, it advocates at both multilateral and bilateral levels for their abolition or reduction. In the interests of easier access to resources, most of Switzerland's free trade agreements extend beyond the relevant obligations determined by the WTO, in that they generally prohibit export duties or provide for existing measures to be lifted.