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Free trade agreement sealed with Japan

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has signed a free trade agreement with Japan aimed at bolstering relations between the two countries.

The accord, to come into force later this year, is the first between Japan and a European country.

The document was signed by Leuthard, who is on a trip to the country, and Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone on Thursday in Tokyo.

The Swiss economics ministry described the accord, which was negotiated over a 16-month period, as the most important trade deal after the 1972 agreement with the European Union.

The accord covers trade, services, business travel links, investment protection, intellectual property rights protection, electronics trade and competition. In particular, access to the market and regulations for investors is expected to improve, with Swiss exporters due to making savings of up to SFr100 million ($84.9 million) in customs fees.

Japan is one of Switzerland's major markets and its main business partner in Asia. Exports to the country rose to SFr7.1 billion in 2008, compared to SFr4.1 billion in imports. Switzerland is among the top ten foreign investors in Japan.

On Friday Leuthard travels to Hong Kong for bilateral talks with the secretary for commerce and economic development, Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan, on a free trade agreement with the region.


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