Swiss diplomat replaces Icelander at helm of EFTA
The veteran Swiss trade diplomat, William Rossier, has taken over as head of the four-nation European Free Trade Association, EFTA, from Iceland's Kjartan Johansson. Though small, the group represents three percent of global trade.
Rossier served recently as Switzerland's envoy to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), EFTA and other international economic bodies in Geneva.
EFTA comprises Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, as well as Switzerland, which is its major contributor. It was launched as a counterweight to the then European Economic Community in 1965.
Over the last years similar free-trade zones have mushroomed in numerous parts of the world, like the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), Asia's ASEAN and South America's equivalent, Mercosur.
Rossier maintains that EFTA still wields considerable influence in the politics of global trade. "When my predecessor, Johansson, took over the leadership six years ago, we never imagined EFTA would come to play this significant a role for its members," he said.
Swiss companies have had to use EFTA as much as possible to gain access to international markets. But with the zone boasting a purchasing power of $120 billion in 1998 - double that of Switzerland alone - it has meant the Swiss obtained free trade or co-operation accords with third countries that have been highly profitable for the domestic economy.
"Economic groupings bring together countries that have the political will to liberalise their markets, while that is not necessarily the case for all the nations that make up the WTO, for instance," said Rossier.
EFTA has already implemented 15 free-trade accords, and eight economic co-operation treaties, with several central and southern European countries. In the coming months, it intends to negotiate further trade agreements with Canada, Mexico, Chile and South Africa.
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