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Couchepin calls for new round of world trade talks

Pascal Couchepin (second from right) says poorer nations' interests are best represented by the WTO


The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, says it is vital that a new round of world trade talks are launched as soon as possible. Speaking at the close of a trip to Singapore, he said poor countries were losing out as richer ones forged new bilateral trade deals.

Couchepin said on Monday that he hoped a new round of talks would be opened at the next meeting of World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Qatar in November.

He said that as long as deadlock persisted at the WTO, poorer countries would continue to suffer economic exclusion "because the WTO is the only forum where developing countries have a real say in world trade matters".

He was speaking at the end of a three-day trip to Singapore, during which Switzerland and the tiny Asian country agreed to start talks on a free trade agreement in three weeks' time in Geneva.

Couchepin, who was negotiating with Singapore on behalf of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), said regional trade agreements were "complementary to further trade liberalisation in the framework of the WTO", but that they benefited only "rich and medium-sized economies such as Switzerland and Singapore".

He added that the signing of regional free trade agreements was a central pillar of Swiss economic policy, as well as that of EFTA, which includes Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

Couchepin said the main aim was to prevent Swiss companies from being discriminated against because the country was not a member of the European Union.

EFTA has free trade agreements with 16 countries - having signed one with Mexico last November. Couchepin said he expected to sign one with Canada in the near future, followed by Chile and the South American grouping, Mercosur, as well as South Africa and the Gulf Co-operation Council.

During his visit, Couchepin also said that Switzerland could learn several lessons from Singapore.

He pointed out that like the "little tiger" of south-east Asia, Switzerland should strive to pack more of a punch on the international stage, and have more confidence in itself.



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