Switzerland has a large number of relationships with the European Union (EU) that are regulated in some 120 agreements. The 1972 free trade agreement and Bilateral Agreements I and II, concluded in 1999 and 2004 respectively, represent major milestones in this context.
The Bilateral Agreements I that came into force in 2002 are of major importance for the Swiss economy and Switzerland as a pharma hub, since roughly half of all exports of medicinal products are destined for the EU. The Bilateral Agreements I confer on Switzerland as a non-EU Member State the status of an MRA (Mutual Recognition Agreement) country. This means that conformity assessments (testing, inspection, certification) are recognised mutually between Switzerland and the EU. This is of decisive importance for export-oriented companies in the mechanical engineering industry and, in particular, the pharmaceutical industry.
Market access and recruitment of qualified employees
The 1972 free trade agreement abolished tariff barriers to trade (particularly customs duties). However, access to the EU single market was not effectively simplified until the Bilateral Agreements I came into force and technical trade barriers were eliminated. This is one of the central achievements of the Bilateral Agreements I and has led to a substantial increase in the volume of exports to EU markets.
Another central achievement of the Bilateral Agreements I is that companies are able to recruit specialists from EU countries unbureaucratically. Access to qualified potential employees is particularly important for the research-based pharmaceutical industry with its highly specialised activities.
Bilateral relations are essential
Swiss pharmaceutical companies export almost 25 times more products abroad than they sell in Switzerland, and over 45% of their exports go to the EU. By breaking off negotiations on a framework agreement without a Plan B, the Federal Council has accepted a deterioration in the competitiveness of Switzerland as a business location. The participation of pharmaceutical companies in the EU internal market is in danger as the bilateral agreements erode. Research-based pharmaceutical companies are dependent on permanently stable relations between Switzerland and the EU. Interpharma therefore demands:
1) No erosion of existing agreements: The free movement of persons, the Agreement on the Elimination of Technical Barriers to Trade and the research cooperation must be continued.
2) Stability in the relations between Switzerland and the EU: Politicians must develop
to ensure the stability and future development of relations.
3) A reform agenda: Switzerland must strengthen its attractiveness as a business location,
for example, in digitalisation and the creation of an attractive framework conditions for clinical trials. Access to further international markets and research locations must be secured.