The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was founded in 1960 as an intergovernmental organisation set up for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to the benefit of its Member States. Today EFTA has four Member States: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. EFTA has one of the world's largest networks of free trade agreements, and today this network comprises over 50 countries and territories.
EFTA engages in technical cooperation to assist its partner countries in addition to the bilateral technical assistance provided directly by its Member States. This cooperation is provided under the EEA agreement and existing Free Trade Agreements. In some cases, EFTA also grants technical assistance to potential free trade partners.
Capacity-building, training, and transfer of know-how in trade-related matters are at the core of EFTA’s technical assistance. Projects under the EEA agreement also include infrastructure development. All activities are governed by the EFTA Council guidelines on technical cooperation and cover a series of programmes and projects funded under the Association’s budget. EFTA’s technical cooperation can be divided into two categories:
- Activities related to EFTA’s free trade agreements and declarations on cooperation financed exclusively by EFTA Member States;
- EFTA’s participation in EU projects and programmes in the areas of statistics and quality infrastructure.
The availability of impartial and reliable statistical information is widely regarded as a prerequisite for a democratic society and a necessary condition for the smooth running of a competitive market economy. Reliable statistical information in trade partner countries is also considered vital by EFTA since it is an important source of information for investors and traders in the EFTA Member States. In particular, EFTA and the European Union have recognised a common interest in assisting countries neighbouring the enlarged European Economic Area to develop their statistical methods and standards with international norms.
A central objective of the EFTA technical cooperation in the field of statistics is to strengthen and develop close links between the EFTA Member States and the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat) and other international organisations in a number of cooperation programmes on statistics.
EFTA gives priority to countries that have concluded free trade agreements or declarations on cooperation with EFTA. Support is mainly granted to developing countries and economies in transition in the Balkans and Mediterranean regions and to recent and prospective partner countries to the eastern boundary of the enlarged EU.
The EFTA Secretariat, represented by the EFTA Statistical Office (ESO) in Luxembourg acts as a link between Eurostat and the EFTA Member States for cooperation programmes. The main duties for ESO are to design, implement and follow up technical assistance programmes in close cooperation with Eurostat and the EFTA Member States.
EFTA is particularly active in:
- Capacity-building and in strengthening and increasing the efficiency of national statistical systems and their institutional framework.
- Strengthening the accuracy, reliability and comparability of statistical information.
- Economic statistics and in particular national accounts, price statistics and external trade.
- Exchange of good practices and use of new technologies for dissemination of statistical information.
- Human resources development, particularly training in support of the areas mentioned above.
Activities do not need to be systematically initiated by ESO in collaboration with Eurostat. ESO welcomes specific requests submitted by EFTA National Statistical Offices, EFTA partner countries and international organisations.
ESO is located on the premises of Eurostat, in the BECH building in Luxembourg.
Received November 2010