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Couchepin attends EFTA summit in Iceland

Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, at last year's meeting in Geneva Keystone Archive

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, is attending a two-day ministerial summit of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Ministers at the meeting, which runs until Thursday in the Icelandic city of Egilsstadir, are due to sign a free trade agreement with Singapore as well as hold talks about the future direction of EFTA’s relations with non-EU countries.

EFTA is comprised of four nations – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway – and accounts for around 2.5 per cent of global trade.

International relations

Over the past decade, the association – which has its headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva as well as offices in Brussels and Luxembourg – has sought to widen its network of international relations.

“As the number of nations belonging to the World Trade Organization increases,” said the Swiss secretary-general of EFTA, William Rossier, “it is becoming more difficult to conclude [trade agreements].”

Rossier added that EFTA gives Switzerland the opportunity to speed up the process of signing commercial accords with expanding markets.

Trade agreements

In the 1990s, EFTA concluded a total of 16 free trade agreements with countries in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area. The move was partly sparked by fears that accords struck with these countries by the EU threatened to discriminate against businesses in EFTA states.

In 1995, EFTA decided to widen the geographical scope of its efforts beyond the confines of Europe.

A free trade agreement with Mexico and a declaration on trade and investment co-operation with the South American free trade association, Mercosur, both signed in 2000, extended EFTA’s network across the Atlantic.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR