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Ambassador still upbeat on US trade deal

Urs Ziswiler has his work cut out for him Keystone Archive

Switzerland's new ambassador to the United States says the failure to forge a free-trade accord with Washington earlier this year was not a wasted exercise.

This content was published on June 20, 2006 - 22:32

Speaking at the Swiss-US Chamber of Commerce's annual general meeting, Urs Ziswiler said the negotiations had led to the establishment of a trade and investment forum.

Ziswiler, who took up his post six weeks ago, told swissinfo that the forum – established in May – was "a kind of free trade agreement but not a full fledged one".

"We will have to fill the forum now with substance and, who knows, a free trade agreement could be on the table again in a few years or in the short term," Ziswiler said.

He told the audience of mostly Swiss and American businessmen and women that the US administration had been "genuinely interested" in signing a free-trade accord; it was Switzerland that exercised its veto.

"Our government decided its conditions for going ahead at that stage had not been met. However the free trade project proved that Switzerland is an attractive partner of the world's largest economy," he said.

His first six weeks on the job have been a flurry of activity, including representing the US in mediations with Iran on the nuclear issue. This has kept him and the Swiss embassy very busy.

"It's a very important mandate that the Swiss have and it is important that someone represents the US properly and to their satisfaction and so far we could do it," he told swissinfo.

One offshoot of being facilitator between Tehran and Washington, Ziswiler explained, was that it ensured Bern access to the highest levels of the administration on both sides.

While he declined to specify what the mandate actually involved, he added that it had its roots in history.

"We have had this mandate for 27 years... it is a tradition of Switzerland [to offer such services]. After the Second World War, we had more than 30 [such] mandates," Ziswiler explained.

Bridge-building

A month ago, he presented his credentials in person to President Bush.

"He emphasised in the short conversation we had the longstanding friendship and close economic relations between our two countries, which have brought us both prosperity," Ziswiler revealed.

The ambassador also stressed that the US had played an important role in guaranteeing world stability.

"Looking back at the 20th century, observers in Europe sometimes forget that we owe stability to a large extent in international affairs to the US. Switzerland benefited from this for a very long time," he said.

He added that he saw his ambassadorial role as bridge-builder on many different levels. One was to revitalise the image Americans have of Switzerland.

This involved presenting Switzerland as a corporate brand within the US, something that Swiss organisations weren't necessarily very good at.

"The various [Swiss] public institutions could approve their synergies to a large extent. We have to use the Swiss brand in the US because they already have problems recognising Switzerland," he emphasized.

Football mad

With regard to the World Cup fever gripping the globe, the ambassador used a football analogy, comparing politics and business with the game.

"The same principles that apply to soccer are crucial in my line of work - respect for rules, competition, teamwork and education," Ziswiler said, adding that international relations needed rules as much as a game of football.

"And Switzerland has a very strong interest in a rules-based approach to politics and business."

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza in Zurich

In brief

Urs Ziswiler, who was born in 1949, became ambassador to the United States in May 2006.

He was previously the second highest ranking diplomat in the Swiss foreign service as head of the foreign ministry's political directorate.

He has also served as advisor to Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

His diplomatic postings have included Canada, Argentina, Israel, Nigeria, Norway and Belgium.

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Key facts

In 2005 Swiss exports to the US grew by 12%, while imports from the US posted a 16.8% growth.
The US is the second most important destination for Swiss exports behind Germany.
Swiss investments in the US reached SFr85 billion ($69.8 billion) last year, while US investment in Switzerland stood at SFr90 billion.
Switzerland is the sixth biggest foreign investor on the US market and the fourth most important destination for US investment abroad.

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Swiss-US bilateral relations in 2006

Bern and Washington signed two agreements in May 2006 to intensify cooperation between the two nations.

The foreign ministry adopted a Memorandum of Understanding with the US to expand dialogue on all matters of mutual interest.

A second accord created the US-Swiss Trade and Investment Forum to strengthen economic relations.

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