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May 26, 2021

Swiss medtech companies lose access to duty-free EU trading

Switzerland medtech companies will no longer be able to export duty-free to the EU.

By Chloe Kent

Switzerland medtech companies will no longer be able to export duty-free to the EU, after Bern and Brussels failed to agree to a long-anticipated trade treaty.

Economic ties between Switzerland and the EU will continue to be governed by over 100 bilateral agreements stretching back to 1972, as the two sides have been unable to agree on a single international treaty to govern their relationship.

An accord with Switzerland’s biggest trading partner on mutual recognition of industrial standards, which facilitates the trade of medtech products across borders, has now expired after talks to extend it fell apart.

The Swiss government said it has agreed to create transition periods before manufacturers from the EU would have to appoint authorised representatives in Switzerland and label products with this information.

Switzerland exports more than $5.6bn worth of medical devices to the EU, and imports over $3bn. The sector accounts for around 3% of Switzerland’s GDP and employs over 60,000 people.

Sector lobby group Swiss Medtech , which represents 1,400 companies, has criticised the loss of seamless access to the single market.

Reuters reports that Swiss Medtech president Bear Vonlathen said: “We hope that the last word has not yet been spoken. I expect politicians to put the health care of their own people above tactical negotiating interests.”

Both parties have been squabbling over a draft treaty since 2018, focusing on free movement of people, civil aviation, land transport, mutual recognition of industrial standards and processed farm goods. Bern would routinely, although not automatically, adopt EU single market rules in these areas and any future accords, such as an electricity union.

Switzerland has declined to agree until open points are clarified on state aid, access of EU citizens to Swiss social benefits and Swiss rules protecting high wages.

Switzerland will now be downgraded to ‘third country’ status, meaning it will need a representative within the EU, meet its product-labelling specifications and deal with a higher volume red tape when exporting.

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