What a new UK-Swiss trade deal would mean for life sciences

Blog post from Claire Machin, Executive Director, International Policy at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. 

The UK and Switzerland are two of the most advanced and innovative economies in the world; both boast world-leading life sciences sectors with rich histories of scientific and technological successes.

However, the current trading rules between the two countries are based on a series of agreements between the European Union and Switzerland which stretch back to the 1970s. When those deals were first signed, the research and development being pioneered by our sector today would seem like science fiction.

With the launch of negotiations towards a new and enhanced free trade agreement (FTA), there is the opportunity to secure one of the most advanced deals of its type for some of the UK’s major growth sectors.

The UK’s biopharmaceutical industry:

  • generated £40.8 billion in turnover in 2021, accounting for 43% of the life sciences sector total [1]
  • invested £5bn in research and development in 2021 [2]
  • generated £14bn gross value add for pharmaceutical manufacturing in 2019 [3]

In Switzerland, the industry:

  • generates 24.1 billion francs (€20.2bn) in gross added value each year
  • accounts for around a third of the market capitalisation on the SIX Swiss Exchange
  • constitutes 38% of the country’s total exports [4]

For life sciences, the opportunities are clear. Firstly, bolstering the innovation that is the bedrock of our sector with provisions that support robust intellectual property frameworks in both countries can ensure the UK continues to be an attractive destination for investment, and can collaborate to develop products of the future.

Together with a dedicated Innovation Chapter in the agreement, both sides can send a signal to the global biopharmaceutical industry that they are serious about supporting growth sectors of the future, like life sciences.

In terms of pharmaceutical regulation, this agreement can cement a strong partnership between the two counties which includes provisions that see both sides cooperate on the development of future streamlined standards, while minimising barriers in cross-border trade from duplicative regulatory requirements at present.

Last year, the UK and Switzerland signed a memorandum of understanding to deepen the relationship between both countries’ pioneering research and innovation communities. This trade agreement is an opportunity to go even further, with binding commitments that cement our credentials as European life science powerhouses.

Read more about the negotiations here: UK's approach to negotiating an enhanced free trade agreement with Switzerland - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

  • WTO
  • International
  • Free Trade Agreements
  • Trade

Last modified: 06 December 2023

Last reviewed: 06 December 2023