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(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s talks to exit the European Union won’t begin for another two months, but it’s already laying the groundwork for its post-divorce relationship with Switzerland.
Just two days after Prime Minister Theresa May started the formal withdrawal from the EU, Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann met with with U.K. Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom in London.
“We started the process today -- very, very early” to avoid any legal gaps that could hurt the business environment, he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Friday. While the U.K. can’t sign any new agreements until it leaves in 2019, “what you can do is meet, discuss, look for ideas and combine knowledge and shape out options and then evaluate, and be prepared for the day they get the chance to conclude.”
Switzerland has never been a member of the 28-country bloc, despite the EU being its top trading partner. Relations between the two are governed by a set of agreements covering anything from immigration and agriculture and civil aviation.
“It would probably for us be the easiest to take this bilateral agreement basis and establish the relationship with the independent U.K. on that,” he said. “We will see whether this works, if not -- alternatives go into a free-trade agreement context. There are a variety of possibilities.”
With its prominent financial sector and reliance on international trade, Switzerland was cited during the Brexit campaign as a possible model for the U.K.’s post-divorce relations with the EU.
Switzerland is in the process of reforming its corporate tax code in an attempt to comply with international norms and to maintain its attractiveness as a low-tax base for companies. Following the rejection of the government’s proposal in a referendum, officials have been sent back to the drawing board and are expected to lay out the key points of a revamped plan in June.
Prime Minister May has held out the prospect of slashing corporate taxes to lure businesses and investment once Brexit is complete.
Schneider-Ammann on Friday appeared relaxed on a potential tax-rivalry with the U.K.
Switzerland and Britain are “two friendly, different nations looking for the best performance, both of us, and finding ourselves in a certain competition, tax competition maybe as well, which is not something bad,” Schneider-Ammann said. This “can lead to a good, win-win situation.”
--With assistance from Catherine Bosley
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