Interview: Sino-Swiss trade deal talks making good progress

Wall Street Journal | May 13, 2011

INTERVIEW: Sino-Swiss Trade Deal Talks Making Good Progress

By Neil MacLucas
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

ST. GALLEN, Switzerland (Dow Jones)—Negotiations between China and Switzerland on a free trade agreement, which should further boost trade flows between the two, "are making good progress," the Chinese minister responsible for European trade affairs has said.

The Swiss and Chinese governments began talks earlier this year on a free trade agreement, which should help streamline trade ties between the two by helping, among other things, to lower import tariffs currently imposed by China on items like watches and industrial goods.

"We’re in the first round of talks, with another three to follow, and while I can’t be specific about how long the talks will last, we hope it won’t be longer than a couple of years," director general of the Department of European Affairs at China’s Ministry of Commerce, Sun Yongfu, told Dow Jones Newswires late Thursday on the sidelines of a conference at the University of St. Gallen.

China has overtaken Japan as Switzerland’s largest export market in Asia, with industrial machinery, precision instruments and tools, pharmaceuticals and watches the most popular imports into the world’s second-largest economy.

"We imported about $7.8 billion’s worth of Swiss goods in the first quarter of the year, while Chinese exports to Switzerland were only around a tenth of that," said Beijing-based Sun.

The Swiss machinery and electronic trade body Swissmem has long regarded China as one of the key growth markets for its exporters, and the Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann has made the expansion of trade relations with China and other emerging market economies one of his priorities.

The recent appreciation of the Swiss franc against the euro, which makes Swiss goods more expensive in the traditional European export markets, has forced exporters to look east for business growth.

"Trade relations between China and Switzerland are very close, and political relations, which date back to the 1950s, are quite good," Sun said.

Swiss companies like Novartis AG, ABB Ltd, Roche Holding AG and Nestle S.A. are among those that played "pioneer roles" in expanding trade and research in China, he said.

"Switzerland has a competitive, capital intensive industry while China offers a vast market," Sun said, adding that " ’Made in Switzerland’ means good taste and quality in China."

Sun said China will be looking to accelerate the pace of FTA agreements with other countries too, with European countries in general more open to the transfer of technologies than the U.S.

Chinese companies will also be looking to raise the levels of their investments in Switzerland, including mergers and acquisitions, he said.

"I’m told all the luxury goods shops along Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse now have assistants who can speak Chinese, whereas before it was Japanese speakers who were in demand," Sun said.

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source: WSJ