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Agreement with India a competitive advantage according to Parmelin

For Economics Minister Guy Parmelin, the EFTA free trade agreement with India means a competitive advantage for a few years. As major economic powers are stepping up protectionist measures, it is important for small countries to diversify their markets.

"I am proud to have signed this agreement," the Minister of Economic Affairs told the media in Bern on Monday. Negotiations between the EFTA states began almost 16 years ago. The road to the agreement had been long and winding, Parmelin reported.

Signed on Sunday

On Sunday, he signed the free trade agreement between the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in New Delhi, together with his counterparts from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Trade Minister Piyush Goyal signed on behalf of India.

The agreement had come about at a time when India was intensifying its free trade relations, said Parmelin. The EFTA states were the first European partners to conclude a free trade agreement with India. This would guarantee a certain level of supply.

India is the most populous country in the world. The growing middle class in particular gives the country a lot of growth potential, explained Parmelin. The agreement is a milestone for Switzerland in terms of foreign trade policy, but also in foreign policy in general. The friendship treaty between Switzerland and India will be 75 years old in 2023.

Almost all tariffs fall

India currently levies very high customs duties on most imported goods. The country will now abolish or partially liberalize customs duties on around 95% of industrial products imported from Switzerland - with the exception of gold - either immediately or after a transitional period.

In addition, India will grant Switzerland duty-free access to its market for certain agricultural products after a transitional period of up to ten years. This will strengthen the competitiveness of Swiss exports to India.

The concessions that Switzerland is making to India on agricultural products are in line with the existing free trade agreements, Parmelin's Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) emphasized on Sunday. They are in line with Swiss agricultural policy.

Access to medication secured

The agreement also brings improvements in intellectual property rights, namely with regard to legal certainty, patent procedures and the protection of the designation "Switzerland" (Swissness).

Parmelin assured that access to medicines in India would not be jeopardized in any way. The agreement not only meets the guarantees demanded by New Delhi, but also the concerns raised by non-governmental organizations.

The agreement is intended to give Swiss economic players broad access to the Indian market. They should also benefit from improved legal conditions, legal certainty and predictability.

Promotion of investments

In addition to provisions on customs duties and intellectual property, the free trade agreement between the EFTA states and India contains a legally binding chapter on sustainable trade and sustainable development. In particular, it addresses labor law, human rights and environmental protection.

Another, in Parmelin's words, "innovative" chapter concerns the promotion of investments on Indian soil by EFTA companies. Without this part, it would have been extremely difficult to reach a balanced agreement, according to the Vaud native.

"A young nation"

"India is a young nation that needs infrastructure, access to healthcare and sustainability," continued Parmelin. The country is positioning itself among the major emerging powers.

India is aware that it needs the technologies from the EFTA countries, said Parmelin, referring to Iceland, which is a leader in the field of renewable energies. For EFTA and Switzerland, the agreement was more than just development aid. It is an investment in a young population and will enable the creation of millions of local jobs.

The Federal Council spoke of a win-win situation. The procedure for approval by Parliament will now be initiated so that Bern can ratify the agreement by 2025 at the latest.

©Keystone/SDA

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