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Guest commentary NZZ: Director General Stephan Mumenthaler

Dossiers - Competitiveness

Guest commentary NZZ: Director General Stephan Mumenthaler

Switzerland and Great Britain: a dream partnership


Switzerland must seize the opportunity presented by a deepening of the free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.

The modernisation of the free trade agreement between Switzerland and the United Kingdom opens up opportunities: The already excellent bilateral trade relations must be further strengthened. Previously untapped potential must be tapped.

Strong interdependence
Both countries are in a similar position: they are highly developed European countries with strong pharmaceutical and financial industries, and they are strongly intertwined both with each other and with the EU in complex and, as is well known, not always frictionless ways. The economic orientations of the two countries are almost congruent. Switzerland and the UK are characterised by international competitiveness, a strong capacity for innovation, economic openness and a sense of pragmatism.

The fact that both countries are not, or are no longer, EU members allows for an independent trade policy without losing sight of the EU. After Brexit, it was important for Switzerland to quickly put the bilateral economic relations on a new contractual basis. Switzerland has succeeded in this, also within the framework of the Federal Council's "mind the gap" strategy. But that is not the end of the story: the upcoming modernisation of the free trade agreement opens up opportunities to tap previously untapped potential.

Switzerland and the United Kingdom are among the most innovative countries in the world. The modernisation of the existing bilateral trade agreement must therefore promote framework conditions and success factors for innovation. Strong and sustainable provisions on intellectual property are urgently needed. This will strengthen cross-border investments in innovation, promote economic growth and improve global competitiveness.

It is imperative that the new trade agreement includes a modern chapter on the protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights. This offers opportunities for close cooperation in areas of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as in chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences innovation.

Research cooperation as an opportunity
In terms of the number of joint projects under Horizon 2020, Switzerland had the second highest rate of cooperation with the UK. Unfortunately, as we know, Switzerland is no longer fully associated with Horizon Europe, which is detrimental to Switzerland's innovative strength. Other partners in international research cooperation are therefore even more important. The United Kingdom in particular, with its excellent institutions, is predestined for a deepening of cooperation.

At the end of 2022, the two countries signed a letter of intent on cooperation in research and innovation. The agreement further strengthens the partnership in these areas, and that is necessary. The chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences industries rely on excellence in research, collaboration between academic and industrial research and the promotion of start-ups.

An agreement offers strategic benefits to both countries. Improved provisions, e.g. in the area of intellectual property, offer both countries the opportunity to use them as a reference in other negotiations.

Reinforcements in the bilateral framework are all the more important the bigger and deeper the cracks in the multilateral framework become. When, as today, the World Trade Organisation is almost paralysed, such friendships are vital. Switzerland and the UK are a dream team. The opportunity presented by a deepening of the free trade agreement with the UK must be seized at all costs.

Dr. Stephan Mumenthaler, Director General scienceindustries, Chemistry Pharma Life Sciences Trade Association


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