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Business leaders want tougher negotiators

Industry should come first, says economiesuisse

(Keystone)

The Swiss Business Federation is calling on the Swiss delegation at the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Hong Kong to push for further trade liberalisation.

The thorny issue of agriculture must not obscure the vital interest at stake at the conference for an export-driven country like Switzerland, economiesuisse says.

"We call on the official Swiss delegation in Hong Kong to battle first and foremost for competitive Swiss companies and jobs, and therefore pursue the proactive interests of the Swiss economy," says Rudolf Ramsauer, director of economiesuisse.

Switzerland earns one in every two francs abroad, Ramsauer points out. The essential thing is therefore to open the market of industrial goods and services at the heart of the global economy more widely, he believes.

Supplementary measures to facilitate trade are also needed and these elements are vital for Swiss business and jobs, business representatives argue.

More ambitious

In the area of non-agricultural market access, which includes industrial, fishing, forestry and mining products, business leaders would like to see a more ambitious and radical approach than the Swiss negotiators.

Economiesuisse's goal is a progressive elimination of border tariffs, currently one of the only protectionist tools recognised by the WTO.

The federation also wants more opening up of the hotel and hospital sectors. In the area of services, however, it is happy with the Swiss position in the financial sector.

Economiesuisse says that Switzerland should make the most of its presence at the sixth ministerial conference of the WTO in Hong Kong rather than assuming a defensive position, despite a deadlock in talks on agriculture.

Protectionism

"Official Switzerland is defending an outdated and exaggerated protectionism, while not always distinguishing itself by generous solutions in services," says Gregor Kündig of economiesuisse.

"The authorities spend too much time and energy on the agricultural question. In the current negotiations, Swiss political leaders must concentrate more on the priorities of the economy."

Switzerland should agree to concessions in farming, which is disproportionately overshadowing the talks, the federation points out.

The ambitions of the conference in Hong Kong are constantly being reviewed downwards and business leaders have become increasingly worried as the prospect of a rapid conclusion to the Doha negotiations has become ever more distant, according to Ramsauer.

"The WTO cannot allow the process to stall again [as it did after Seattle and Cancún]. We must do everything in our power to ensure that the conference is a success."

Ramsauer hopes it will pave the way for an agreement by 2007.

Multilateralism at risk

Failure in Hong Kong would put the whole system of trade multilateralism at risk, he warns.

With its clear rules, rights and obligations, the system largely favours a small country like Switzerland, says Ramsauer.

Economiesuisse supports the government's strategy of signing bilateral trade accords.

Switzerland has already sealed a series of accords with the European Union, and is hoping to strike trade deals with the United States, Japan and China.

"A country like Switzerland – one of the most strongly integrated in the world economy – can defend its interests [at the WTO talks] in relation to foreign trade in an optimal way," says Ramsauer.

swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson

In brief

The Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, is the main central organisation of Swiss business interests, with more the 30,000 member firms, employing 1.5 million people.

The Federation was set up in 2000 following the merger of the Swiss Trade and Industry Association and the Society for the Development of the Swiss Economy.

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Key facts

The sixth ministerial conference of the WTO takes place from December 13-18 in Hong Kong.
The meeting of the organisation's highest decision-making body hopes to pave the way for the conclusion of the so-called Doha round of trade talks, launched in 2001.
Representatives of 149 countries are taking part in the Hong Kong meeting.
Economics Minister Joseph Deiss will lead the Swiss delegation.

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