The European Free Trade Association, meeting in Zurich, has approved a series of measures to strengthen trade with Croatia, Macedonia and Ukraine. The moves were announced by Switzerland, one of the four members of the group.
Ministers from the EFTA countries - Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland - on Monday signed a free trade agreement with Macedonia, and agreed to work more closely with Croatia and Ukraine.
The meeting, chaired by Switzerland, focussed on relations with countries outside the European Union. EFTA is currently holding talks with 10 countries on ways of strengthening bilateral trade.
One of the countries with which a pact is being negotiated is Canada. Sources at the meeting said an accord was close, and if concluded, would be the first between the trade bloc and a country on the other side of the Atlantic.
Other countries being targeted as potential partners include Mexico and South Africa. Discussions on free trade accords are also underway with a number of Arab Mediterranean states.
EFTA has steadily lost economic importance because its members have defected to the European Union over the years. It still accounts for more than two per cent of world trade and plays a major role in areas such as chemicals, financial services, shipbuilding and fisheries.
swissinfo with agencies