Switzerland and the United States have signed a new accord on vocational education; a possible free trade agreement is also in the works.
Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammannexternal link, whose remit includes education, signed a memorandum of understanding on vocational training in Washington on Monday. For some time now, the US has been looking at Switzerland’s system combining education with an apprenticeship at a host company.
On Monday, Schneider-Ammann also met Deputy US Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish but left empty handed in terms of a new free trade deal. Agriculture was the major sticking point, said the federal councillor.
“The understanding has improved qualitatively, but some discussion is still needed to determine whether we can negotiate or not,” Schneider-Ammann told Swiss public television, SRFexternal link.
While this sounds cautiously optimistic, Schneider-Ammann considers the potential for a free trade agreement between Switzerland and the US to be intact. “It is better to invest a bit more in advance so that the actual negotiation of an agreement is more efficient, and, above all, the result is then accepted.”
It is important to build trust among the negotiating partners as well as on the domestic side, he said, alluding to lessons learned in 2006, when a free trade agreement between the US and Switzerland failed.
The US is Switzerland’s second largest trade partner and Switzerland is an important investor in the US.
The next opportunity for discussions with the US authorities is expected at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos in January. Federal Councillor Schneider-Ammann, who has strongly supported US-Swiss trade relations, will have to watch as a private citizen as he leaves his executive branch post at the end of the year.
A first agreement on VET cooperation, a declaration of intent, was signed back in 2015 and the two countries have since then been pursing “an intensive dialogue” on the issue, said a statementexternal link released ahead of the trip by the Swiss economics ministry.
For example, the governor of the US state of Washington and a delegation of nearly 50 business and education leaders came to Switzerland to learn about the country’s vocational training system in 2017.
“The MoU will reaffirm the will of the two countries to continue this cooperation,” explained the communique and provides a “framework for a practical exchange of information on VET-related topics”. It will be valid for three years.
Schneider-Ammann is also due to meet US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on his trip. DeVos was recently in Switzerland at a vocational education conference, which was taken as a sign that the Trump administration still wants to collaborate over the Swiss apprenticeship model.
President Donald Trump has previously called for more Swiss-style vocational training to combat joblessness. Apprenticeships remain relatively rare in the US, although interest is growing.