The existence of non-tariff barriers imposed by countries can restrict Swiss SMEs' access to the European Union (EU) market. Solutions exist to limit this impact, however.
Many measures other than customs duty can limit imports – these are called non-tariff barriers. The Swiss Federal Law on Technical Barriers seeks to prevent Swiss companies from having to manufacture different products for the Swiss and European markets. In addition, use of a second conformity assessment is increasingly unnecessary, allowing Swiss companies to bring their products to the European market more quickly.
What is a non-tariff barrier?
A non-tariff barrier is a measure other than a customs duty (technical, packaging or labeling standards, contingents, etc.) imposed by a country to discourage or restrict imports of certain goods into its territory.
Non-tariff barriers between Switzerland and the EU
The Swiss Federal Law on Technical Barriers (LETC) largely adapts Switzerland’s technical rules to EU rules. It seeks to prevent Swiss companies from having to manufacture different products for the Swiss and European markets.
The LETC was revised in 2010 to integrate the unilateral application by Switzerland of the Cassis de Dijon principle. Thanks to this, products legally brought onto the European market can freely circulate in Switzerland without any additional prior control, with some exceptions.
However, the Cassis de Dijon principle does not, on its own, remove all technical barriers to trade between Switzerland the EU.
The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade
The main non-tariff barrier between Switzerland and the EU is the obligation to carry out a second conformity assessment for Swiss products intended for the European market. These assessments establish whether a product conforms to the rules in force in Switzerland and in the EU (for example, in matters of consumer health) and whether it meets the conditions for placement on the market.
This barrier has nevertheless been significantly reduced thanks to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. This agreement provides for the mutual recognition of conformity assessments in Switzerland and the EU for the majority of industrial products. Two options exist:
- Equivalence between the legislation of Switzerland and the EU is allowed. In this case, a single conformity assessment suffices to market the product. Any certificate of conformity issued by an authorized body in Switzerland or the EU is recognized by the other party. This applies to machinery, medical devices, motor vehicles and electrical devices, for example.
- Equivalence between the legislation of Switzerland and the EU is not allowed. In this case, double certification remains mandatory to verify that the product satisfies the rules of Switzerland and the EU. Both assessments can be carried out by the same assessment body, however.
For most products, the manufacturer itself may set up a conformity assessment and declare this in writing. In some cases specified in the agreement, however, it is imperative to obtain the opinion of a laboratory, a control institute or a notified body. The agreement is also constantly evolving and it is likely to include some new groups of products in the future.
Advantages for Swiss companies
For Swiss companies, abandoning the second conformity assessment presents several advantages:
- Reduction in costs and shortening of deadlines when marketing new products in the EU
- Facilitated import of goods originating from the EU
Additional aid and information
Companies can find a wealth of information about conformity assessments and accredited control bodies on the website of the Swiss Accreditation Service (SAS).
The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) provides companies with a list of contacts for any questions about the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade or about certain groups of products in particular.