It is the goal of EFTA's third-country policy to safeguard the economic interests of its Member States, to support and reinforce the process of European and interregional integration, and to contribute to worldwide efforts to liberalise trade and investment. Combining the contractual framework that the EFTA States have with the European Union and the free trade agreements that EFTA has with third countries, approximately 80% of EFTA's total merchandise trade is today covered by preferential trade arrangements.
EFTA's third-country policy was initially established in 1990 to mirror the European Union's external economic relations approach after the end of the Cold War. In 1995, the EFTA Ministers decided to extend the reach of preferential trade relations, geographically beyond the Euro-Mediterranean region and substantially by including, in addition to trade in goods and protection of intellectual property rights, areas such as trade in services, investment, competition and government procurement. The first broad-based EFTA free trade agreement was concluded in 2000 with Mexico. Since then, more such agreements have followed, and EFTA is continuing to expand its network with partners around the world.
At the same time, further topics are being introduced in EFTA free trade agreements, such as trade facilitation, sustainable development and cooperation.
In the 1990s, the EFTA States concluded free trade agreements with a number of countries which subsequently became members of the European Union (Bulgaria, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovenia). These agreements were replaced by the relevant arrangements between the EFTA States and the EU.
For a short description of the main subjects addressed in EFTA free trade agreements, click here.
Currently, the EFTA States have 24 free trade agreements (covering 33 countries) with the following partners: