U.K. Joining EFTA May Pose Balance Risk, Swiss Minister Says

  • EFTA is a ‘good team’ in current form, Schneider-Ammann says
  • British panel has suggested EFTA re-entry following Brexit

A U.K. return to the European Free Trade Association following Brexit would alter the balance of the four-country body, leading to British dominance of the group, according to Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann.

“EFTA as it is today, we are a good team,” Schneider-Ammann said in an April 6 interview in Geneva. “We had no discussion about it. Personally I am not very keen in stepping into such kind of discussions just now,” though a tie-up may make sense in the future.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who intends to pull the U.K. out of the European Union’s single market for goods and services, should consider taking Britain back into EFTA, which it left in 1972 to join the EU, as a way to jump-start post-Brexit global trade negotiations, a panel of U.K. lawmakers said last month.

The association, which included the U.K. as a founding member in 1960, currently comprises Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Rejoining EFTA after its exit from the EU would allow the U.K. to take advantage of the 27 free-trade agreements the group already has with countries worldwide, according to the U.K. Parliament’s International Trade Committee. All four EFTA member countries participate in the EU’s single market.

The U.K. first needs to negotiate its “divorce” with the EU before looking at a return to the smaller trade bloc, Schneider-Ammann said. Switzerland will also need to reorganize its own relations with the U.K., said the minister, who spoke on the sidelines of an event at Geneva’s Campus Biotech in honor of entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli.

Britian’s EU withdrawal “takes time, takes a lot of energy,” Schneider-Ammann said. Even so, “maybe many years from now the discussion will come up” for the U.K. to return to EFTA. “Why not?”

— With assistance by Zoe Schneeweiss, and Catherine Bosley

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