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Switzerland looks east

Economics minister, Pascal Couchepin (left), and his Polish counterpart, Jacek Piechota (rights) during their meeting in Warsaw

Switzerland is looking for new ways to invest in eastern European countries as the European Union's eastward expansion continues.

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, went on a two-day visit to Poland and Hungary at the end of last week to look for new investment opportunities for Swiss businesses.

Jörg Reding, ambassador for bilateral economic relations at the state secretariat for economic affairs, Seco, believes that with the EU’s eastward expansion, planned for 2004, Poland could become an increasingly important trading partner for Switzerland.

“Poland lies on the German border and when Poland joins the European Union, which they are hoping to do in 2004, it will become an important partner within the EU,” Reding told swissinfo.

Rising exports

Poland is already Switzerland’s largest trading partner in Eastern Europe with Swiss exports, which have doubled over the past six years, currently amounting to SFr1.2 billion ($700 million) per year.

Even though Switzerland’s investment in the Eastern European nation is already as high as SFr2 billion, Seco is hoping to boost this figure even further.

“Switzerland is the 13th largest investor in Poland worldwide, however, we are seventh or eighth in other countries. For this reason we want to increase our investment there and every time we go to Poland we are trying to find more investment opportunities,” he said.

According to Reding, Switzerland’s biggest trading partner is the United States with a total of SFr70bn, followed by the United Kingdom with SFr35bn.

Eastern markets

However, Seco is not only looking to Poland to find further investment opportunities in Eastern Europe. Other countries, such as Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, are also on the list.

According to Reding, there has always been a special relationship with Hungary as a large number of Hungarians came to live in Switzerland after the uprising against communist rule in 1956. However, after the collapse of communism many of them returned back home.

“We are already the seventh largest investor in Hungary and our overall investment there amounts to SFr1 billion,” he said.

However, he believes that Slovakia could be Switzerland’s next major trading partner in Eastern Europe.

“Slovakia’s restructuring came later than in other countries, but they have made a tremendous progress over the last two years regarding their co-operation and negotiations with the EU,” he said.

by Billi Bierling and Ramsey Zarifeh

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR