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Swiss seek closer trade ties with Turkey

Pascal Couchepin says Turkey could become an important trading partner if economic reforms are pushed through Keystone Archive

On his visit to Turkey, the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, said the country could become an important business partner for Switzerland.

“Turkey has great economic potential,” Couchepin said on Monday after a meeting with Turkish and Swiss business leaders. However, he emphasised that Ankara would have to introduce certain economic reforms.

“We must not forget the country’s current problems,” Couchepin continued, referring to Turkey’s economic and financial crisis in 2001.

Last year’s crisis was at the centre of the talks with Turkish business representatives, during which the country’s economics minister, Kemal Dervish, repeatedly emphasised that Turkey would be able to deal with the aftermath of that crisis.

Fifth biggest investor

Switzerland is the fifth biggest foreign investor in Turkey with direct investments worth $2 billion, according to figures by the Turkish central bank. Swiss companies, mainly in the energy sector, benefit from an export risk guarantee by the Swiss government.

During his two-day visit Couchepin is also expected to meet prime minister, Bülent Ecevit, and other members of the government.

Other issues on the agenda are Turkey’s integration into Europe, as well as its relations with Iraq and countries in central Asia.

Couchepin did not have any plans to discuss a controversial proposal by the Swiss parliament to officially recognise as genocide the killing of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians during the Ottoman Empire in 1915/16. “This is up to the historians,” he said.

Bilateral relations

Relations between Switzerland and Turkey were tarnished in the mid-1990s after a Kurdish demonstrator was shot dead outside the Turkish embassy in Switzerland, but have since improved.

However, new diplomatic tensions emerged in the past few months over efforts underway in Switzerland to recognise as genocide the massacre of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians during the Ottoman Empire in 1915/16.

The Turkish government has protested against renewed calls by parliament to officially acknowledge the killings as genocide. It recently summoned the Swiss ambassador in Ankara, and the Turkish ambassador to Switzerland expressed Ankara’s concern about the proposal.

The Swiss parliament discussed a similar proposal last year, but narrowly rejected it. The government had come out against such a move, saying it could jeopardise relations with Turkey.

Turkey refuses to consider the killings as genocide, but refers to them as “incidents”.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR