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Switzerland to lobby for Central Asian partners

Switzerland represents the interests of a number of former Soviet republics, including Uzbekisan, which is dogged by poverty Keystone Archive

Switzerland will note the problems of Central Asian countries at weekend meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

A 10-strong delegation, which includes the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, and the president of the Swiss National Bank, Jean-Pierre Roth, has flown to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, to attend the talks. The sessions had been postponed after the terrorist attacks in the United States in September.

Central Asian countries have come under the spotlight in recent weeks because of the war in Afghanistan.

As a member of the governing boards of both institutions, Switzerland represents the interests of a number of former Soviet republics, including Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The other member countries of the Swiss constituency are Poland and Yugoslavia.

“The countries of Central Asia are now very much in focus because of the situation there. We will especially give attention to the difficult situation they’re in,” Ambassador Oscar Knapp of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs told swissinfo.

Debt problem

In particular, he cited problems relating to the influx of refugees, the sharp fall in the prices raw materials fetch, the collapsing tourism sector and the difficult debt situation. Central Asian countries have a sizeable debt problem vis-à-vis the multilateral institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank.

“Particularly in the debt area, we are proposing that those countries can also benefit from the Debt Initiative for Highly Indebted Poor Countries of the World Bank and IMF,” Knapp told swissinfo.

The HIPC initiative agreed by governments around the world in 1996 was the first comprehensive approach to reduce the external debt of the world’s poorest, most heavily-indebted countries and was considered an important step forward in placing debt relief within an overall framework of poverty reduction.

Also high on the agenda of the meetings is the world economy since September’s terrorist attacks.

“The situation has certainly worsened since September 11. I would say that recovery of the economy worldwide will take somewhat more time than was expected before,” Ambassador Knapp told swissinfo.

Optimism and strong policies

“The message will be that we are pretty optimistic when it comes to the second half of 2002. However, it will be very essential that countries continue to follow a very serious fiscal policy and that they adapt their monetary policy, so that the fundamentals remain strong,” he added.

At the IMF committee meeting in Ottawa, the agenda looks set to deal with the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

“Switzerland is very active in this field. We have a very strong and efficient law against money laundering and we are very interested that the IMF and the World Bank continue their work in these areas,” Ambassador Knapp said.

The Ottawa meetings will also deal with the United Nations Financing for Development Conference, due to take place in Mexico next March.

Financing choices

Knapp said Switzerland saw several possibilities regarding financing initiatives put forward at a host of other UN conferences.

He said Switzerland was continuing its official development aid by increasing the level of its contribution to 0.4 per cent of GDP by the year 2010.

“We are also convinced that the opening of trade is very important for economic recovery and growth in developing countries. That is something else that has to be pursued,” he added.

“And we will also underline the necessity to have private investment increasing in those countries because we are convinced that it can create jobs. Jobs mean income and income means reduction of poverty.”

Knapp also commented that more cooperation in developing countries between public and private institutions was another avenue to be explored.

by Robert Brookes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR