Össur Skarphéðinsson, the Foreign Minister of Iceland, has signed on behalf of Iceland, a free trade agreeement between the four EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and Hong Kong, China. The signing ceremony took place on 21 June at the EFTA Ministerial Meeting in Schaan, Liechtenstein.
The negotiations between the EFTA countries and Hong Kong, China were launched in January 2010 and concluded in March 2011. The Free Trade Agreement covers a broad range of areas, notably trade in goods (industrial and processed agricultural goods, fish and other marine products), trade in services, investment, protection of intellectual property rights, government procurement, competition and trade and environment. Bilateral arrangements on agricultural products between the individual EFTA States and Hong Kong, China also form part of the instruments establishing the free trade area between the two sides. A parallel agreement on labour was concluded in connection with the FTA.
At the Ministerial Meeting Minister Skarphéðinsson informed his EFTA colleagues about the state of play with regard to Iceland's application to the European Union.
The EFTA Ministers discussed preferential trade relations with third countries, such as the state of the free trade negotiations with India, Indonesia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and with Montenegro. The Ministers were pleased to note the start of the negotiations in early 2011 with three members of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Minister Skarphéðinsson stated that the EFTA countries should continue to express serious concerns about the state of human rights in Belarus.
Furthermore, the EFTA Ministers expressed their satisfaction at the positive conclusions reached on the feasibility of a free trade agreement in the Report from the EFTA-Vietnam Joint Study Group and look forward to launching negotiations at the earliest possible opportunity. They furthermore expressed their readiness to engage in free trade negotiations with Malaysia.
Minsters also expressed their wish to deepen the relations with countries on the American continent. They discussed the exploratory work conducted with five Central American States (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama) to date and decided to continue preparations for possible negotiations. They also agreed to explore the possibility for closer trade relations with MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) based on the existing Joint Declaration on Cooperation.
The Ministers also decided to examine how trade relations with Africa could be strenghtened.
They reiterated their strong commitment to the multilateral trading system. In this connection, they expressed their deep concern over the lack of progress in the WTO Doha negotiations. EFTA Ministers urged all parties to the negotiations to engage constructively in order to complete the Round.
Ministers discussed the general functioning of the EEA Agreement as well as the bilateral relations between Switzerland and the European Union.
Ministers met with the EFTA advisory bodies that are actively engaged in EFTA's work: the Parliamentary Committee and the Consultative Committee. A fruitful exchange of view with committee members took place on a range of issues regarding EFTA's third-country relations and the EEA Agreement.