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British official makes plea for free trade

Trade flows should not be undermined by protectionism, Haird said panalpina

A senior British trade official has told an audience in Switzerland that it is crucial for markets to remain open and for protectionist pressures to be resisted.

This content was published on May 28, 2009 - 21:23

Susan Haird, who is deputy chief executive of the government organisation UK Trade and Investment, said in Bern on Thursday that it was important for trade and investment to continue during "these challenging economic times".

"Otherwise the recession will get worse rather than better," she said.

"I'm here to emphasise the importance of trade links between the two countries and to say that in these economically challenging times, it's very important that we keep trade and investment flowing in both directions," Haird told swissinfo.ch.

"The companies that will come out of this recession surviving and in better shape will be those that carry on trading, carry on investing and take risks. Some of the best companies in the world were started in recessions," she emphasised.

Haird said it would be "foolish" not to be worried about protectionist forces because whenever economies go downhill there is always the temptation to descend into protectionism.

"One has only got to look at the depression of the 1930s to see how very bad that is and would be."

"Open markets"

"The G20 summit in April in London reaffirmed the importance of open markets and talked about the dangers of going down a protectionist route," she said.

"I don't see much danger and I think those countries that do it would not be sensible. Certainly as far as the UK is concerned we are determined not to allow any protectionist forces to rise."

Speaking on bilateral trade relations, Haird noted that Britain and Switzerland had "great strengths" in a wide range of industrial sectors and there were many opportunities to extend that.

"Just because one country makes something and another makes it doesn't mean there's not an opportunity for trade...quite the opposite," she said.

"Often you will find niche opportunities, supply chain opportunities, a lot of scope for partnering, for investing in one another's countries, for collaborating in research and development."

Trade surplus

In 2008 Switzerland had a trade surplus with Britain. According to figures from the Federal Customs Administration, Swiss exports totalled SFr11.145 billion ($10.27 billion), while imports from Britain were SFr7.243 billion.

However, both exports and imports slid in the first three months of the year.

Why should Swiss companies look to do business in Britain rather than, for example, neighbours Germany, France and Italy?

"One answer is that the UK is a very big market. It's a springboard to global growth... but I think Swiss companies speak for themselves," she said.

"We've got 1,500 Swiss companies operating in the UK. We're the second-biggest recipient of Swiss inward investment."

Robert Brookes, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Susan Haird was speaking in the Swiss capital Bern at a meeting of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce.

UK Trade and Investment was created in 1997 to help companies wanting to export from Britain and encourage "the best overseas companies to look to the UK as their global partner of choice".

It is a department that reports jointly to the British Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

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Swiss-British relations

Bilateral trade amounts to more than SFr18 billion a year.

Britain is Switzerland's fifth-largest export market.

Switzerland is Britain's third-largest export market outside the European Union, after the United States and China.

Britain is Switzerland's second-largest destination for outward investment, ahead of Germany and France.

Many Swiss firms carry out research in Britain, including pharmaceutical groups Roche and Novartis, as well as the Syngenta agri-business.

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