"Don't be afraid of China" urges Blocher

Showing the way: Christoph Blocher says Swiss businesses should play to their own strengths Keystone

Switzerland should not fear being swamped by a surging Chinese economy, cabinet minister Christoph Blocher has told the Swiss Economic Forum in Thun.

This content was published on May 11, 2006

Blocher drew parallels to concerns in the 1980s that Japan's industry would upstage Switzerland by mass producing goods such as watches at a cheaper price.

The packed conference of small and medium-sized business (SME) bosses was warned on Thursday to respect their Asian counterparts and advised to focus on their own strengths rather than compete on costs.

"When I was in business I built many factories for the Chinese in China. I learned to never underestimate their hard work ethic and industry and neither should you," Blocher said on Thursday.

"You may be worried that China can produce goods at a cheaper price than you, but you should not concern yourselves with this. You must concentrate on your strengths rather than worry about things you cannot control.

The justice minister, a successful businessman himself before joining the government in 2003, reminded the audience of what he considered traditional Swiss industrial strengths: quality, precision and accuracy.

Blocher emphasised his message by reading out a series of Swiss newspaper headlines from the mid-1980s to this year.

The tone of the earlier headlines, prophesying a threat to Switzerland's business interests from Japan's "tiger" economy, changed to a more confident tone in later years as the Japanese suffered a recession.

Risks and innovation

The cabinet minister urged business leaders to embrace risk through innovation in the face of growing global competition.

"It is natural to fear that you might not be able to survive, but those fears must be overcome," he added.

Swatch Group chairman Nicolas G Hayek, who is credited with reviving Switzerland's ailing watch industry in the 1980s and 1990s, backed Blocher's comments.

Hayek told the conference how he tackled competition from cheap Japanese watches with innovative business methods.

"People were saying that the Swiss watch industry was on its knees. Many people could not see how we could survive when a multi-lingual secretary earned as much as a manager in Japan," he said.

"But it was possible to successfully meet this competition by taking risks and being innovative."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Thun

In brief

The Chinese economy grew by around 10% in 2005, but measures have been put into place to cool the growth rate.

About 270 Swiss firms are represented in China with around 600 branches, employing some 55,000 people.

In 2004 Swiss exports to China totalled $3.08 billion (SFr3.73 billion) against imports worth $2.83 billion.

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Key facts

The eighth edition of the Swiss Economic Forum, the annual meeting of SME leaders, is taking place in Thun, canton Bern until Friday.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are companies that employ up to 250 people.
They account for 99.7% of the 307,000 companies in the Swiss private sector and provide jobs for 66.8% of the workforce.
87.9% of SMEs have fewer than ten employees.

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