Article 56.3 of the EFTA Convention stipulates that a new EFTA Member State “requests membership of free trade agreements between Member States on the one hand and third countries, state associations or international organisations, on the other.” As a member of a customs union, a country that joins EFTA has not been able to fulfil this obligation. EFTA membership does not exclude the establishment of a customs agreement with the EU; existing EFTA countries regulate their relations with the EU through different instruments. Article 126 of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement provides for a transitional period until 31 December 2020. Article 129 of the withdrawal agreement states that, during the transitional period, the UNITED Kingdom is bound by obligations under international agreements concluded by the EU, including the EEA agreement. EEA-EFTA states have agreed to treat the UK as an EU member state during this period. As a result, the rights and obligations set out in the EEA agreement between the United Kingdom and the EEA-EFTA states apply until 31 December 2020. [1] The European Economic Area (EEA) was created by several agreements in 1992. It consists of 28 EU Member States and three of the four members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The EEA allows these three countries to participate in the EU single market. Switzerland, the fourth member of EFTA, is not a member of the EEA, but has chosen to conclude many specific bilateral agreements with the EU.

There are strong reasons why the UK is unlikely to join EFTA. The EFTA agreement requires adherence to the four freedoms of people, goods, services and capital. Some EFTA countries have developed the EEA agreement bilaterally in areas such as justice and home affairs, foreign and security policy and agriculture. Norway participates in operations and missions under the common security and defence policy, as well as the activities of the European Defence Agency. The EEA agreement makes EFTA states a contribution to the development of EEA legislation. The EU is asking experts from EFTA and EU member states to start exchanging information on EFTA in order to liberalise trade between its member states. In 1972, each EFTA state concluded bilateral free trade agreements with the EEC. Currently, 29 free trade agreements are in force in EFTA countries or are awaiting ratification for 40 partner countries around the world (outside Europe). Since these agreements contain certain provisions that are outside the EU`s jurisdiction and fall within the competence of the remaining Member States, EU Member States are added to the EU itself as parties to the EU`s external trade agreements. In this respect, the EEA agreement is no different from other EU trade agreements. The European Community is the first contracting party to be covered by the EEA agreement (see the text of the EEA agreement) and, among them, the EU Member States designated in the text as `EC Member States`.