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Deiss hails economic ties with Japan

Swiss president Joseph Deiss presents a gift to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Keystone

Switzerland and Japan have been discussing moves to promote mutual investment and cooperation in the fields of research and technology.

Talks between the Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, and the Japanese finance minister, Sadakazu Tanigaki, have resulted in an agreement on double taxation.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said he shared the Swiss view that existing cooperation efforts, particularly in the areas of biotechnology and nanotechnology, should be extended, but gave few concrete details.

The two men also discussed the outlines of a possible bilateral free-trade agreement, although Deiss made it clear at a media briefing on Tuesday that Switzerland was “not priority number one” for Japan in this respect.

Deiss is being accompanied during his six-day trip by a delegation including Pierre Mirabaud, chairman of the Swiss Bankers’ Association, and Ueli Forster, president of the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse.

One-way traffic?

“We hope that more Japanese companies will choose Switzerland for investment in Europe,” Deiss told swissinfo shortly before his meeting with Koizumi.

Swiss direct investment in Japan totalled SFr7.9 billion ($6.3 billion) in 2002, but investments in Switzerland by the world’s second-largest economy were worth only SFr1.1 billion.

Regarding technical co-operation, Deiss said: “ For countries like ours, there is only one solution for the future, namely innovation and being at the forefront of technical and scientific research, [with] the ability to produce new products and be successful on world markets.”

Political commentators point out that, while the discussions – part of the first official visit to Japan by a Swiss president since 1996 – represent an important step forward, little concrete has yet been achieved.

But the “Tages-Anzeiger” newspaper said in its Wednesday edition that the investment promotion agreement, while vague, should help boost Swiss export prospects.

The newspaper added that Deiss and Koizumi had agreed to hold further talks on the free-trade issue at government level.

However, “Le Temps” newspaper took a more jaundiced view, saying: “The Swiss came to Tokyo to promote mutual investment and, if possible, to launch discussions about a future free-trade agreement. They will leave empty-handed on both counts.”

Building bridges

Japan is Switzerland’s most important trading partner in Asia, with Swiss exports totalling SFr5.14 billion in 2003 and Japanese imports worth roughly half that figure – SFr2.64 billion.

About 140 Swiss companies are directly represented in Japan, but Deiss says there are still plenty of opportunities to increase both mutual direct investment and other trade ties.

Other issues under discussion during Deiss’s six-day visit include the prospects for more direct flights between the two countries, promotion of Swiss cultural activities in Japan and agricultural policy.

Switzerland and Japan belong to a bloc of ten countries within the World Trade Organization that combine a professed commitment to free trade with continued heavy subsidies to their agricultural sectors.

swissinfo with agencies

Deiss met Koizumi for talks on direct investment, technical and research cooperation, double taxation and the prospects for a free-trade agreement.

The two sides announced progress on several issues, but gave few details.

Some commentators see the outcome as positive, while others believe the Swiss president will leave Japan “empty-handed”.

Japan is Switzerland’s third-largest trade partner after the United States and the European Union.
Swiss exports to Japan totalled SFr5.14 billion ($4.06 billion) in 2003, while Japanese imports came to SFr2.64 billion.
Swiss direct investment in Japan totalled SFr7.9 billion in 2002, but Japanese investments were worth only SFr1.1 billion.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR