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Participation in the EEA would have put Switzerland on the road to full economic integration and thus given it access to the European internal market on an equal footing with EU member states. Following rejection of the EEA, the Federal Council decided to launch negotiations on a sector-by-sector basis with the EU to ensure market access for Swiss companies without discrimination in key economic sectors. At the end of 1993, the EU declared itself ready for negotiations in seven sectors on condition that the negotiations be conducted in parallel and that they be signed and take effect together (parallelism). The EU set this condition because it considered that the different dossiers would only be in the interest of both partners if they were adopted as a single package. The agreements were therefore linked in legal terms by a so-called «guillotine clause», stipulating that they can only take effect together: if one of the agreements were not to be prolonged or terminated, the other could also cease to have effect.
On 21 June 1999, Bern and Brussels signed the seven bilateral (sectoral) agreements. Known as Bilateral Agreements I, these were approved by 67.2 % of the Swiss electorate on 21 May 2000 and came into force on 1 June 2002. Together with the Free Trade Agreement, they make it possible for the Swiss private sector to have extensive access to the Single European Market of almost 500 million potential consumers.
The Bilateral Agreements I are - with the exception of the Research Agreement - traditional market liberalisation agreements:
Free movement of persons: The labour markets are to be opened gradually. Following transitional periods, Swiss and EU citizens will be able to take up residence in any of the partner countries and will enjoy the same employment rights. The prerequisites are to have a valid employment contract, to be self-employed or to have sufficient independent means, and to have health insurance.
Technical barriers to trade TBT (also known as the Mutual Recognition Agreement MRA): This agreement simplifies the admission of products. Testing and admission for the entire European market is now the responsibility of a single certification authority, either in Switzerland or in the EU.
Public procurement markets: The obligation to invite tenders in the context of procurements and construction in accordance with WTO rules is to be extended to the level of municipality and to the pro-curement activities of public and specific private sector companies in particular sectors such as rail transportation and energy.
Agriculture: Trade in agricultural products has been simplified in certain areas (cheese, processed dairy products), partly through the dismantling of tariffs and partly by the mutual recognition of the validity of regulations in the areas of veterinary medicine, plant protection and biological agriculture.
Overland transport: The markets for road and rail transport will gradually be opened to competition, and Switzerland's transport policy based on road-to-rail transfer is anchored in a European framework. The EU accepts an increase in the levy on heavy goods vehicles (LSVA) to CHF 325 (as of 2008), while Switzerland accepts a gradual increase in the weight limit for HGVs to 40 tonnes (as of 2005).
Civil aviation: The agreement gives airlines gradual access to each other's markets.
Research: Swiss researchers as well as companies may now participate in the EU research framework programmes.
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