Swiss ambassador Henri Gétaz, who currently helps coordinate Swiss-European Union affairs, has been appointed the new secretary general of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Gétaz, who has headed the Directorate for European Affairsexternal link within the Swiss Foreign Affairs Ministry since 2010, will take over from Iceland’s Kristinn F. Árnason on September 1, 2018, it was announced on Fridayexternal link following an EFTA ministerial meeting in Geneva.
“This is important for Switzerland, naturally, but also for the entire EFTA family. We are delighted to have found someone so well qualified,” Swiss Economics Minister Johann N. Schneider-Ammann told swissinfo.ch. He represented Switzerland at the one-day EFTA meeting alongside ministers from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Gétaz was also heavily involved in the tax evasion negotiations between the Swiss bank UBS and the US authorities. He will become the third Swiss to lead EFTA after Charles Müller and William Rossier.
Apart from the Swiss nomination, it was a relatively normal biannual meeting, Schneider-Ammann added.
Brexit, and free trade with Turkey
On Friday morning, the ministers of Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also met Nihat Zeybekci, the Turkish Minister of Economy, and announced the conclusion of negotiations on the modernisation and expansion of the EFTA-Turkey Free Trade Agreement.
EFTA has developed 27 free trade agreements with 38 countries and territories worldwide. Over 12% of the small club’s total exports go to these trade partners and they are the source of 7.5% of EFTA imports.
On Friday, the ministers confirmed their commitment to advancing free trade talks with India, Indonesia, Mercosurexternal link, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The ministers also discussed the critical ongoing Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union, and stressed the importance of maintaining close economic and trade relations with Britain after it leaves the 28-member bloc.
“London has to sort out their relationship with Brussels. Immediately afterwards we hope to clarify our relations with the UK. We are preparing everything right now. The contacts are intense, the Brits have come to Bern and we have sent teams to London. Things should move ahead efficiently when fresh bilateral talks are possible,” Schneider-Ammann noted.
During the biannual gathering, member states also signed a joint declaration of cooperation between EFTA and the Republic of Moldova as a first step to closer economic relations.
Switzerland is one of the founding members of EFTA; it acceded to the organisation in 1960. In 1992 Swiss voters narrowly turned down joining the European Economic Area (EEA) or single market, viewed as a stepping stone towards EU membership. The three other EFTA members - Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland - chose to join the EEA.