Doris Leuthard, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, has held official talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the start of a two-day presidential visit to India.
In a joint declaration, Switzerland and India reiterated their longstanding ties and the will to deepen the good cooperation in economic matters through the envisaged free trade agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is a member, and India, a Swiss official statement external linksaid.
Both sides are aware that the potential in economic relations is not yet being fully exploited. They therefore reiterated their commitment to bringing the negotiations to a conclusion, added the statement.
Sometimes difficult negotiations over the potential agreement have been ongoing since 2008.
The visit is being held against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between Switzerland and India.
Leuthard and Modi also spoke about the need for bilateral investment protection agreement, financial and fiscal policy, and common concerns over climate change. Terrorism and migration issues were also discussed.
At the start of her visit, Leuthard was received by President Ram Nath Kovind and Modi, after which she laid a wreath at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial. Further talks with government ministers are planned. On Friday the focus will be the 70th anniversary celebrations.
India, with its 1.3 billion people and a growing middle class, is an interesting market for Switzerland. There is a 30-strong business delegation from Switzerland in Leuthard's entourage.
“We want to experience first-hand what economic ideas and policies the Indian government has over the next three or four years,” Jan Atteslander from the Swiss business federation, economiesuisse, told Swiss Public Radio, SRF, on Thursday.
“We also want to know where we stand with the free-trade negotiations,” he said.
One area of disagreement is patent protection. The Swiss pharmaceutical industry insists on comprehensive protection, which it believes is not guaranteed in India. Atteslander said he was not holding his breath for the agreement to be reached this year.
Range of talks
Other subjects on the agenda include cooperation between Switzerland and India on energy, transport and education, exchanges on global climate policy, the situation in South Asia and the political and economic situation in Europe.
Leuthard is head of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.
Meetings are scheduled to take place with the trade minister and the ministers for energy, the railways and finance. She will give a speech on the opportunities of digitalisation at a business event in New Delhi and is also due to speak to students about energy and climate change.
The main theme of the presidential visit is the Treaty of Friendship signed between Switzerland and India in 1948, in which the two countries gave assurances of “perpetual peace” and “unalterable friendship”.
Switzerland’s recognition of India’s independence in 1947 and the conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship laid the foundations for their good bilateral relations, according to a government statement.
swissinfo.ch and agencies/ts and ilj