Canton Basel City has signed a sister-state agreement with the American state of Massachusetts - and it's not a marriage of unequal partners.
Basel City covers a mere 37 square kilometres and has a population of 188,000. Mighty Massachusetts, by comparison, covers some 7,840 square kilometres and boasts a population of six and a half million.
However, members of local government dismiss suggestions that the Swiss canton will play baby brother in any sister-state agreement.
"We recognised three years ago that both regions have some similarities," said Ralph Lewin, head of economic and social affairs department, canton Basel City. "They are advanced technologically, have good education systems and a high level of culture."
Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift and Basel City President Carlo Conti signed the document at the State House in Boston. It is the highest-level agreement signed by a Swiss canton with a US state.
The agreement, designed to foster joint activities, programmes and exchanges, covers four main areas: trade, industry and investment; science and technology; education and research; arts and culture.
Massachusetts is world renowned as a centre of high technology, biomedical research, financial services, industrial development and education.
Basel City also has a worldwide reputation as a centre for pharmaceutical and chemical research and manufacturing, financial services, and arts.
The agreement coincides with a decision by the Basel-based pharmaceuticals giant, Novartis, to build a $250 million (SFr398 million) research facility in Cambridge.
"The most important project is to establish an exchange between students," Lewin, one of the leaders of the delegation, told swissinfo.
"We have many students in high school who are interested in spending some time in the United States and we have already identified several schools on both sides of the Atlantic where they are interested in starting this exchange.
"I have very positive signs that after signing this agreement we will get it established."
Cultural exchanges among artists and composers are already under way. Exhibitions and musical events are also expected to transfer between the two states.
In the field of economics, hopes are high that there will be new opportunities.
"We already have a very big exchange of goods and we will try to increase the information about the possibilities of Basel, what we offer to firms and vice versa," said Lewin.
Lewin's department identified Massachusetts as a strategic partner back in 1998 and Wednesday's twinning agreement is the first signed by Basel City.
The relationship took off in earnest in May 2000 with the first trip to the US. On their return visit to Switzerland, the Massachusetts delegation signed a memorandum of understanding, pledging to increase cooperation.
Another milestone was the inauguration of the Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education (SHARE) in Cambridge, which provided an opportunity for the interested parties to renew ties.
By the end of 2000, Basel founded the Friends of Massachusetts Association, which now has 100 members - individuals, companies and institutions.
In 2001, the first projects were elaborated and in March 2002 the two sides decided to pursue an agreement. Wednesday's signing is the conclusion of this process.
As part of Wednesday's celebrations, leading Swiss football club, FC Basel, who are currently in the US on a training camp, took on the New England Revolution team in a friendly match.
by Vincent Landon
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