The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental organisation set up for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to the benefit of its four Member States Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The Headquarters of the EFTA Secretariat in Geneva supplies services related to free trade and co-operation agreements with third countries. The Brussels Secretariat and the Luxembourg Office provide support in managing the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement.
The Association is responsible for the management of:
The EFTA Convention, which forms the legal basis of the organisation and governs free trade relations between the EFTA States;
EFTA’s worldwide network of free trade and partnership agreements; and
The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement, which enables three of the four EFTA Member States (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) to participate in the EU’s Internal Market.
EFTA was founded in 1960 on the premise of free trade as a means of achieving growth and prosperity amongst its Member States as well as promoting closer economic cooperation between the Western European countries. Furthermore, the EFTA countries wished to contribute to the expansion of trade globally.
Based on these overall goals, EFTA today maintains the management of the EFTA Convention (intra-EFTA trade), the EEA Agreement (EFTA-EU relations), and the EFTA Free Trade Agreements (third country relations). The EFTA Convention and EFTA free trade agreements are managed by the Geneva office, and the EEA Agreement by the Brussels office.
EFTA was founded by the Stockholm Convention in 1960. The immediate aim of the Association was to provide a framework for the liberalisation of trade in goods amongst its Member States. At the same time, EFTA was established as an economic counterbalance to the more politically driven European Economic Community (EEC). Relations with the EEC, later the European Community (EC) and the European Union (EU), have been at the core of EFTA activities from the beginning. In the 1970s, the EFTA States concluded free trade agreements with the EC; in 1994 the EEA Agreement entered into force. Since the beginning of the 1990s, EFTA has actively pursued trade relations with third countries in and beyond Europe. The first partners were the Central and Eastern European countries, followed by the countries in the Mediterranean area. In recent years, EFTA’s network of free trade agreements has reached across the Atlantic as well as into Asia.
EFTA was founded by the following seven countries: Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Finland joined in 1961, Iceland in 1970 and Liechtenstein in 1991. In 1973, the United Kingdom and Denmark left EFTA to join the EC. They were followed by Portugal in 1986 and by Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. Today the EFTA Member States are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.