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International Trade minister Liz Truss announced last week that Britain will apply to join a large trading bloc of countries from around the world. The UK will pitch to become part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which could allow Britain to trade freely with 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. The talks regarding UK entry will start later this year, Ms Truss said, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson claiming that the country is “forging new partnerships that will bring enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain”.
The plan was praised by some in the business world, but Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry, questioned why “we have been through five years of debate in Britain over leaving a trade bloc with our closest neighbours only to rush into joining another one on the other side of the world”.
As the UK looks to new partners post-Brexit, there has also been talk over whether the UK could join EFTA.
In 1972 Britain left EFTA to join what has become the EU. The current four members, of EFTA are Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
Swiss Prime Minister, Guy Parmelin, addressed the possibility of the UK joining the trade area – saying it could be “risky” as the UK would “dominate” given the size of its economy.
He was serving as Swiss Economy Minister when he made the comments in September 2020, saying he was open to the idea of talks with the UK but wasn’t sure Britain “needed” to join.
Mr Parmelin said: “I have not heard that this is needed by Britain. If Britons want that, we will review it, but I believe it would be risky.
“Given its size, Britain would dominate the rest of EFTA.”
EFTA was established in 1960 to serve as an alternative trade bloc for those European states that were unable or unwilling to join the then European Economic Community (EEC), the main predecessor of the EU.
“I think the EU would weaken itself if it no longer cooperated with Switzerland on research.
“We are then forced to seek alternatives, perhaps along with Britain, if the EU remains dogmatic.”
When the UK and the EU finally secured a post-Brexit trade deal, Mr Parmelin said this was “good news for the whole world, including for Switzerland”.