Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- A U.K. return to the European Free Trade Association following Brexit would alter the balance of the four-country body, leading to British dominance of the group, according to Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann.

“EFTA as it is today, we are a good team,” Schneider-Ammann said in an April 6 interview in Geneva. “We had no discussion about it. Personally I am not very keen in stepping into such kind of discussions just now,” though a tie-up may make sense in the future.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May should consider taking Britain back into the EFTA, which it left in 1972 to join the European Union, to jump-start global trade negotiations for when the country exits the EU, a panel of U.K. lawmakers said last month.

The association, which included the U.K. as a founding member in 1960, currently comprises Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Rejoining EFTA post-Brexit would allow the U.K. to take advantage of the 27 free-trade agreements the group already has with countries worldwide, according to the U.K. Parliament’s International Trade Committee.

The U.K. first needs to negotiate its “divorce” with the EU before looking at a return to the smaller trade bloc, Schneider-Ammann said. Switzerland will also need to reorganize its own relations with the U.K., said the minister, who spoke on the sidelines of an event at Geneva’s Campus Biotech in honor of entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli.

Britian’s EU withdrawal “takes time, takes a lot of energy,” Schneider-Ammann said. Even so, “maybe many years from now the discussion will come up” for the U.K. to return to EFTA. “Why not?”

--With assistance from Zoe Schneeweiss and Catherine Bosley

To contact the reporter on this story: Albertina Torsoli in Geneva at atorsoli@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Vidya Root at vroot@bloomberg.net, Tom Lavell, Thomas Mulier

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