A commitment to open foreign markets
Open foreign markets are of crucial importance to the Swiss economy. In addition to the bilateral agreements with the European Union, Switzerland’s foreign economic policy also relies on additional pillars. One of the Foreign Economic Affairs Directorate’s core tasks in the field of world trade is to help shape the world economic framework and, together with the special services concerned, to represent Switzerland’s economic interests in important multilateral organisations, particularly the World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
World Trade Organization (WTO)
Switzerland’s high share of foreign trade indicates just how close Switzerland’s ties are with other countries. Reliable international rules for international trade are particularly important. Our active membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), one of the most important platforms for trade and commerce, is therefore a key element of our foreign economic policy. We participate in the negotiations in the WTO rounds and in WTO bodies (the Ministerial Conference, councils, committees, working groups, etc.). Through our commitment to the dismantling of trade barriers, including the improvement of access to public procurement markets, we contribute to increasing market opportunities for the Swiss export industry and to the strengthening of the domestic market over the longer term. The WTO’s dispute settlement rules, which prevent unilateral rulings and retaliatory measures and which promote overall stability, legal certainty and legal equality among members as well as the monitoring of the trade policy measures in order to combat potential protectionist trends at an early stage, are also very much in Switzerland’s interests. In the framework of the WTO, we are working towards the shaping of a coherent balance between trade and other areas of policy, such as environmental protection and health, the safeguarding of basic labour standards and consumer protection.
Free trade agreements/European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
Even though EFTA currently consists only of three states (Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) in addition to Switzerland, it has demonstrated for decades that it is capable of establishing a functioning and dynamic free trade area among its members and with other partner states. Furthermore, EFTA membership provides Switzerland with a useful observer status in the bodies of the European Economic Area (EEA). EFTA is, however, of particular importance to Switzerland as a forum for the negotiation of free trade agreements with non-EU partners. The conclusion of free trade agreements, for the most part within EFTA but also on a bilateral basis, is essentially aimed at guaranteeing Swiss companies conditions for economic cooperation that has legal certainty and is as predictable, free of obstacles and non-discriminatory as possible. These conditions include, in particular, at least the same level of access to international markets as that of Switzerland’s key foreign competitors. At present – in addition to the EFTA convention and the free trade agreement with the EU – Switzerland has a network of 28 free trade agreements with 38 partners outside the European Union. Negotiations are being conducted or planned with numerous other partners. While traditional agreements are restricted mainly to the movement of goods, i.e. first and foremost, to the elimination of customs duties and to the protection of intellectual property rights and competition regulations, more recent agreements also contain substantial provisions relating to public procurement, services, investment and sustainability. These negotiations require collaboration between SECO’s various special foreign economic services with whom we are working to ensure that the interests of the Swiss economy are represented as best as possible.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) currently comprises 34 member states. It offers the government representatives of these countries a permanent platform for multilateral economic cooperation covering all economic, social and environmental areas, with the exception of defence and cultural policy. The OECD prepares legally binding decisions, politically binding recommendations or country specific evaluations and analyses, for example on economic growth, unemployment, education, trade, development cooperation, SMEs, sustainability, green growth, biotechnology, healthcare, competition, investment, corruption, research and innovation, etc. We monitor the work of the OECD and coordinate the relevant federal offices and special services to represent Switzerland in the OECD’s varied work.
The basis for a new, global economic governance was created with the establishment of the “Group of 20” (G20) at the Summit of Heads of State and Government in Washington in 2008. Following the initial urgent decisions which had to be taken during the economic and financial crisis, the G20 has since established a structured method of working. As such, Switzerland saw itself faced with a new starting basis but remained convinced at all times of the importance of convergence towards the G20. It consequently reorganised its approach in order to actively defend its commercial and financial interests and to make a contribution towards resolving international problems. With this in mind it passed a strategy that provides for Switzerland to take a proactive position with regard to the central points of the G20 agenda and a stronger position within the international organisations appointed by the G20. Together with the State Secretariat for International Financial Affairs, SIF, and representatives of other departments, the SECO chairs the interdepartmental working group on the implementation of this strategy.