On 11 February 2019, the Federal Council announced that Swiss Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin and the British Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, signed a bilateral trade agreement that will assure the continuation of economic and trade relations between Switzerland and the United Kingdom after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit). The announcement said, in part:
The trade agreement signed today by Switzerland and the UK ensures the continuation of the economic and commercial rights and obligations arising from the agreements between Switzerland and the European Union (EU). This new agreement lays the foundations for the two parties to continue their sound economic and trade relations once the United Kingdom has left the EU.
The new agreement was concluded as part of the Federal Council’s ‘Mind the Gap’ strategy. It replicates the vast majority of the trade agreements with the EU that currently govern relations between Switzerland and the United Kingdom: the 1972 Free Trade Agreement, the Agreement on Public Procurement, the Agreement on the Fight against Fraud, part of the Agreement on Mutual Recognition in Relation to Conformity Assessment and the 1999 Agreement on Agriculture. These various agreements have the effect of reducing or even eliminating trade barriers and discrimination in bilateral economic exchange.
Some agreements between Switzerland and the EU are based on harmonisation or recognition of the equivalence of rules between the two parties (2009 Agreement on Customs Facilitation, some sections of the Agreement on Agriculture including the annex known as the ‘veterinary agreement’ and some sections of the Agreement on Mutual Recognition in Relation to Conformity Assessment) and cannot be replicated in their entirety at this stage.
An additional agreement between Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Principality of Liechtenstein to extend the relevant provisions of the trade agreement to the territory of Liechtenstein under the Swiss-Liechtenstein Customs Union was also signed today.
The signed agreement will come into force as soon as the Swiss/EU agreements cease to apply to relations between Switzerland and the UK. If the Brexit transition period begins as planned on 30 March, the Swiss/EU agreements will continue to apply between Switzerland and the UK. In this scenario, the agreement will serve as a basis for economic and trade relations between the two parties after the end of the transition period. Should the United Kingdom leave the EU on 29 March without a deal, the agreement will come into effect on a provisional basis from 30 March 2019.
As part of its ‘Mind the Gap’ strategy, the Federal Council wishes to ensure that the existing mutual rights and obligations in its relationship with the UK will continue to apply as far as possible after the UK leaves the EU, and to expand them in certain areas. With this in mind Switzerland and the UK have already signed agreements on road transport, air transport and insurance. In December 2018 the Federal Council adopted an agreement on citizens’ rights with the United Kingdom.