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OSEC faces up to new challenges

The OSEC aims to boost the export capacity of small businesses Keystone

The Swiss government's office for promoting foreign trade, OSEC, is undergoing a major transformation in a bid to modernise its image and help Swiss exporters.

Under its new head, Balz Hösly, OSEC is streamlining its bureaucracy and is aiming to become far more proactive in encouraging small and medium-sized businesses to plunge into the export market.

Founded in 1927, the Swiss Office for Trade Promotion has faced criticism for being out of touch with the needs of the country’s business community.

Hösly, who took up his new position as OSEC’s head in September, wants to change that perception.

His first task has been to see through the closure of the organisation’s joint headquarters in Lausanne.

Hösly says the Lausanne offices were kept open for political reasons and could no longer be justified economically. Zurich will now take administrative responsibility for the whole country.

Paradoxically, Hösly says the move will enable OSEC to get nearer to its clients in western Switzerland.

“We believe the service we can provide to small and medium-sized companies in western Switzerland will increase dramatically and we will be able to double or triple the amount of companies serviced” he told swissinfo.

The closure of the Lausanne offices will cost 14 administrative jobs but more export consultants are to be hired to advise companies directly on foreign trade.

Other measures are also being taken to improve communication.

“The main priority is to establish an export promotion network,” said Hösly. “OSEC does not want to do everything itself which has sometimes been the impression. We want to cooperate with the cantonal chambers of commerce and local trade associations.”

Switzerland’s export market took a knock in the 1990s as the country went through a prolonged period of recession. But now the economy has picked up and many small- and medium-sized companies have regained their confidence.

“I think the future is bright,” says Hösly, “I think the entrepreneurial spirit here in Switzerland is something you can really feel if you live in this country. There is a window of opportunity for Swiss exporters.”

by Michael Hollingdale

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR