On June 1 seven bilateral accords between Switzerland and the European Union come into force, governing trade issues and the free movement of people.
Free movement of people
Under this agreement the Swiss and EU labour markets will be opened up for a trial period of seven years, at the end of which Switzerland will be free to decide whether or not to continue with it.
Swiss citizens will be able to live and work freely within the EU just two years after the agreement comes into force. Freedom of movement in Switzerland for EU citizens will be gradually phased in over a period of 12 years. The Swiss government hopes a number of measures to be introduced will eliminate potential abuses, such as "wage dumping".
Swiss airlines will gradually be given greater access to the EU's civil aviation market. Prices of flights from Switzerland are expected to drop as a result with local airlines being given more freedom to establish new routes and set prices.
A key advantage for Swiss airlines will be their ability to use EU hubs to collect passengers and freight. EU airlines will naturally enjoy the same rights during stop-offs in Zurich.
The agreement will lead to major reductions and, in some cases, even the scrapping of customs duties by both Switzerland and the EU. Consumers should see prices fall for many products imported from the EU, while Switzerland will be able to export a range of produce, including cheese and fresh fruit and vegetables, more widely and at a lower price. However, sensitive areas such as grains, meat, wheat and milk will remain protected.
Certain technical obstacles to trade will be lifted, notably through the mutual recognition of testing in sectors such as veterinary medicine and plant protection.
This agreement is designed to coordinate road and rail transport between Switzerland and the EU.
In the short term, heavy goods vehicle (HGV) traffic in Switzerland is set to rise as the weight limit from trucks crossing the country is gradually raised from the current 28 tons. Trucks weighing 40 tons will be allowed into the country from 2005.
Parallel to this increase, road levies on HGVs will be increased substantially. Much of the profit will be used to build infrastructure necessary to transfer much of the HGV traffic on to rail networks.
Switzerland and the EU will extend their current World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations on public procurements. Those regulations specify what the EU and Swiss authorities must do when awarding contracts for goods and services and construction projects in the water, public transport and energy sectors.
Procurement by local authorities and in the telecommunications and transport sectors as well as by private sector companies operating on the basis of concessions will now also be subject to the WTO rules. Swiss bids will no longer have to be three per cent below those of EU members, nor to create 50 per cent of the value added within the EU.
Technical barriers to trade
The purpose of the agreement is to establish mutual recognition for the results of tests (certificates, authorisations, etc) for the majority of products originating in Switzerland and the EU. Since the agreement recognises Swiss laws as equivalent to those of the EU, a single test will henceforth be enough to allow the commercialisation of products in those markets, thereby ruling out the need for duplicate testing.
However, some cases remain where Swiss requirements differ from those of the EU. In those cases, two conformity tests will still be needed, although it will now become possible for Swiss certification bodies to perform both tests.
The agreement allows Swiss research institutes, universities and private sector companies to participate fully in all EU science and research programmes. For the first time, Swiss researchers will be able to launch and lead European research projects themselves, rather than being limited to simply participating in projects.