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EFTA expected to ease trade barriers with eastern neighbours

The European Free Trade Association is meeting in Zurich to discuss trade pacts with Ukraine, Croatia and Macedonia. The four-nation group, of which Switzerland is a member, accounts for around two per cent of world trade.

The main beneficiary of today's meeting will be Macedonia. Ministers from the four EFTA countries - Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland - are expected to tear down all remaining trade barriers with the impoverished state. They are also scheduled to sign cooperation agreements with Ukraine and Croatia.

But a bigger prize - a free trade agreement with Canada - is expected to remain elusive. EFTA is keen to secure a trading partner on the other side of the Atlantic and has been pushing Ottawa to conclude a deal. However, the two sides have so far been unable to reach a compromise.

EFTA has steadily lost economic clout as 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