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"From Heidiland to high-tech land"

Pascal Couchepin got some hands-on experience at CeBIT

(Keystone)

The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has been touting Switzerland's fitness as a high-tech place to do business. Addressing the world largest technology trade fair, CeBIT 2001, in Germany, he said Switzerland had always been a "high-tech land" despite its clichéd "Heidiland" image.

Couchepin took the hard-sell approach at CeBIT 2001 in Hannover, describing Switzerland as a world leader in technological innovation for more than 100 years.

He said that when Johanna Spiri was writing her classic tale "Heidi" in 1880, the label "Made in Switzerland" was already associated with the highest standards of quality, and that the country was leading the way in the development of watches, precision engineering and machinery and financial services.

Couchepin was addressing business leaders on Monday at CeBIT 2001, where some 112 Swiss firms are represented.

He said the cliché of Switzerland as an alpine paradise accurately reflected the country's high standard of living - Zurich, Bern and Geneva were recently ranked as among the best cities in the world to live in - but did not do it justice as a centre for technological excellence.

He reeled off statistics demonstrating Switzerland's prowess as a high-tech centre, and pointed out that the country leads the world in research and development spending.

He said, for example, that every third computer mouse sold is produced by a Swiss company, as are nine out of 10 ballpoint pen tips. He cited the success of Swiss companies such as Swatch, and reminded his audience that Swiss technological know-how had built the electrical micro-engine that drove Pathfinder, the robot which explored the surface of Mars.

Couchepin also highlighted the benefits of doing business in Switzerland, with its low taxes, high-quality infrastructure, central position at the heart of Europe, and it protection of intellectual property.

He said Switzerland enjoyed strong political stability and that strikes and other conflicts between employers and employees were almost non-existent. He added that Swiss workers were highly productive, working an average of 173 hours per year more than their German counterparts.

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