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EFTA set to strengthen trade ties with Latin America

Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, (right) signs a declaration on cooperation with Yugoslavia

(Keystone)

Ministers of the European Free Trade Association, which includes Switzerland, have signed a cooperation declaration in Geneva with the four South American countries in the Mercosur economic group, and a separate accord with Yugoslavia.

The deal with Mercosur, signed on Tuesday, is seen as a first step towards a free trade agreement.

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, as well as ministers from the three other EFTA countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, were present at the ceremony. The Mercosur members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

An EFTA spokesman described the joint declaration with Yugoslavia as a political gesture towards the new government in Belgrade.

EFTA currently has free trade agreements with 16 non-European Union states and is in negotiations to forge similar agreements with seven other countries, mainly in the Mediterranean area. It has already signed declarations of cooperation with four other partners.

The Swiss economics ministry says these free trade links are an integral part of Switzerland's foreign trade policy and are a useful contribution to efforts to liberalise world trade within the framework of the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation.

The ministry added that the signings come at a time when EFTA's links to other countries have entered a new phase.

The declaration of cooperation with Mercosur comes just two weeks after Couchepin paid an official visit to Argentina, and signed a free trade agreement with Mexico on EFTA's behalf.

Negotiations are continuing with Canada and Chile, while South Africa and many Asian states, including Singapore, are seen as other potential free trade partners.

Couchepin is to pay an official visit to Singapore from February 8-13.

swissinfo with agencies

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