UK starts work on new FTA with Switzerland

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The UK and Switzerland are due to begin negotiations on an improved free trade agreement that will boost commercial relations between the countries.

The UK government has commenced work on an enhanced free trade agreement (FTA) with Switzerland, a country it describes as a "fellow services superpower".

Prime minister Boris Johnson marked the start of the new collaboration by hosting Swiss president Ignazio Cassis in London for bilateral talks.

The UK Department for International Trade has also launched an eight-week consultation that will invite businesses and the public to share their views on commercial relations between the two countries. This will take place before negotiations get underway in earnest.

Removing barriers to business and improving access for British firms to the Swiss market will be among the key objectives of the improved deal, which will ultimately aim to accelerate two-way trade between these nations.

Talks will also focus on how a new FTA can take this international relationship to a new level in industries of the future, such as digital trade and sustainable growth.

The Department for International Trade noted that an improved deal will benefit key segments of the British economy, such as finance, legal services, consultancy, tech and the creative industries.

Switzerland is currently the UK's tenth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth nearly £35 billion a year.

The existing agreement between the countries maintains arrangements that were in place before Brexit and allows British companies to benefit from tariff-free trade on most goods. However, it does not cover services, which account for nearly half of the bilateral relationship.

UK international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the agreement of an enhanced FTA between the countries would present a "huge opportunity" to liberalize trade and generate new opportunities for Britain's "world-leading services sector".

She added: "As two services superpowers, we have a huge opportunity to negotiate a modern, ambitious, unprecedented deal that will boost both our economies and show the world what is possible between two like-minded and innovative nations who are firmly within Europe but outside of the EU."

William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses will welcome the opportunity to take part in the consultation and give their feedback on the potential details of a new UK-Swiss FTA.

"We would urge negotiators not to dislodge the current provisions on rules of origin - these are highly important for UK supply and manufacturing supply chains," he added. "There are also opportunities to secure bespoke arrangements on digital trade, green trade and an SME chapter within a revised trade agreement. "

The UK was the second-largest supplier of services to the world in 2020, with exports worth £266.8 billion. Switzerland was the 12th largest, with a value of £89.6 billion.