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Switzerland toasts EFTA on 40th anniversary

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has been helping the European Free Trade Association celebrate its 40th anniversary at a special function in Geneva.

In his keynote speech to Switzerland's EFTA partners, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, Couchepin said, "In a person's life, a 40th birthday is an important milestone," and took the opportunity to look at the 40-year-old organisation's future.

He said the single most important lesson to be learned from EFTA's past was its "ability to transform itself beyond recognition" in order to adapt to changing circumstances.

Couchepin compared the organisation to an interest group or club for like-minded countries committed to free trade, by virtue of necessity.

"We are living in an increasingly multilaterally-minded world...it pays to be part of a multilateral group. It is therefore not surprising that EFTA, as a well-established and respected grouping, finds it easier to get the attention of trading partners, than as separate, individual countries."

He also underlined the two main priorities for EFTA: as an instrument of integration in the European single market through a special agreement with the EU, and as a tool to establish free trade relations with countries beyond the EU.

Following Thursday's ratification by the European parliament of the bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland, Couchepin also expressed optimism that Swiss voters will also approve the package of the seven accords, in a nationwide referendum on May 21.

The combined GDP of EFTA countries last year was around 423 billion dollars, more than that of Australia. The combined exports by EFTA was worth more than 242 billion dollars, representing 2.2 per cent of world trade.

While trade between EFTA partners is minimal, it is the European Union's second largest trading partner after the United States.

swissinfo with agencies


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