Switzerland opposes protectionism, hoping to promote China-Switzerland FTA upgrade: Swiss Federal Councilor
Published: Jul 03, 2024 10:04 PM
Guy Parmelin, Swiss Federal Councilor and head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

Guy Parmelin, Swiss Federal Councilor and head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Photo: Xie Wenting/GT

Switzerland will continue to promote the upgrading of the China-Switzerland Free Trade Agreement (FTA), particularly in many areas worth advancing, such as market access and e-commerce, within the China-Switzerland FTA, said Swiss Federal Councilor Guy Parmelin on Tuesday in Beijing.

Parmelin, who is also the head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, also noted that Switzerland is "very proud" to be one of the first Western countries to establish formal diplomatic relations with China. It was also one of the first countries to sign cooperation agreements in the fields of science and economy with China, as well as the first European country on the continent to sign a free trade agreement with China.

Parmelin made the above remarks at a media event on Tuesday at the Swiss Embassy in Beijing. He is currently leading a Swiss business and technology delegation to China for a 5-day visit from July 1 to July 5.

During the visit, he met with Chinese government officials to exchange views on China-Swiss economic and trade relations, and signed a memorandum of understanding to formally launch negotiations to promptly upgrade the China-Switzerland FTA.

He noted that many areas including market access and e-commerce are worth advancing in the China-Switzerland FTA. "In these areas, we have already reached many consensuses with the Chinese government and hope to further negotiate," he said.

According to the Swiss Federal Council website, his mission will take him to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. The representatives from Switzerland's business community and its education, research, and innovation institutions traveling with him will have access to Chinese decision-makers and be able to foster connections. Switzerland and China maintain close relations in the fields of business and science.

As the year 2025 will mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Switzerland, Parmelin told the media, "As we approach the 75th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, we have a strong friendship and many common interests. I believe that as we celebrate our 75th anniversary, both countries will look back on the path we have traveled and move forward hand in hand."

Close economic cooperation

According to the news office of the Ministry of Commerce, Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao met with Parmelin on Monday, and the two sides exchanged in-depth views on China-Switzerland economic and trade relations. After the meeting, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed to formally launch negotiations to upgrade the China-Switzerland FTA as soon as possible.

Wang said that under the guidance of the China-Switzerland innovative strategic partnership, the economic and trade relations between China and Switzerland are developing well. The economic ties between China and Switzerland are close and complementary, and the bilateral FTA has played a positive role in promoting trade and investment growth between the two countries over the last 10 years.

"China is willing to work with Switzerland to implement the important economic and trade consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, to quickly initiate negotiations to upgrade the China-Switzerland FTA, and to promote the high-quality development of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. It is hoped that Switzerland will adhere to free trade, oppose protectionism and unilateralism, and continue to provide a fair and open investment environment for Chinese enterprises," he said.

Parmelin said that Switzerland will continue pushing the upgrade of the China-Switzerland FTA forward.

In the meeting with Wang, Parmelin also stressed that as an open country, Switzerland has always been against protectionism and restrictions on economic and trade cooperation. Switzerland hopes to strengthen regulatory policies and intellectual property protection cooperation with China, and work together to create a fair and non-discriminatory business environment for enterprises.

At Tuesday's event, Parmelin said that Switzerland is not a member of the EU and that Switzerland strongly opposes protectionism and trade wars.

"We hope to actively participate in the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and establish new rules that everyone can adhere to in order to avoid commercial conflicts. This is especially important for small countries like ours, as many of us have small domestic markets and rely heavily on exports. Therefore, we need to have rules in place to govern international trade," he said.

For Switzerland, we emphasize win-win situations, we need to have peaceful and good relationships between countries in order to develop our economy better. This way, our society can move toward a better tomorrow, as we will have more economic resources to address these issues, he noted.

China and Switzerland are important economic and trade partners. In recent years, economic and trade cooperation between China and Switzerland has flourished, achieving fruitful results.

Switzerland is China's 6th largest trading partner in Europe, while China is Switzerland's largest trading partner in Asia. According to the General Administration of Customs, in 2023, the trade volume between China and Switzerland reached $59.5 billion, an increase of 4.4 percent, with exports to Switzerland totaling $5.74 billion and imports from Switzerland totaling $53.76 billion.

In the first five months of 2024, the trade volume between China and Switzerland reached $37.13 billion, a year-on-year increase of 29.6 percent. China's imports from Switzerland mainly consist of machinery and electronic products, chemical and pharmaceutical products, optical instruments, medical equipment, and watches; while exports include textiles, machinery and electronic products, chemical raw materials, toys, sporting equipment, and leather products.

The China-Switzerland FTA was signed in July 2013 and came into effect in July 2014, playing a positive role in promoting economic and trade cooperation and development between the two countries. On January 15, China and Switzerland announced the completion of a joint feasibility study on upgrading the China-Switzerland FTA, and agreed to support the prompt start of formal upgrade negotiations.

Market access is one of the areas in which China and Switzerland hope to negotiate in the upgrade of the free trade agreement. "In the last decade, we have seen many tariff barriers and access barriers gradually eliminated or improved, but there are still some barriers that exist. I think we should make further efforts to reduce and eliminate these barriers, such as in the watch industry and mechanical industry." Parmelin said.

Parmelin noted that in terms of new fields like e-commerce, upgrade negotiations should be held. "Ten years ago, we rarely talked about e-commerce, but now its development is very rapid, especially within the framework of the WTO. We hope to reduce some barriers in the e-commerce sector. In this regard, we can facilitate business operations through negotiation."

In addition to meeting governmental officials, the delegation also contacted many enterprises and Chinese scientific institutions, hoping to sign some agreements and have more opportunities to conduct on-site observations and exchanges between the two sides. "I think our visit this time is fruitful," he said.