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Couchepin optimistic about boosting relations with U.S.

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin on Wednesday wrapped up his official visit to Washington and said he was optimistic about building even closer economic relations with the United States.

This content was published on July 14, 1999 - 08:27

Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin on Wednesday wrapped up his official visit to Washington and said he was optimistic about building even closer economic relations with the United States.

After holding talks with senior trade and business representatives of the American government and Congress, Couchepin underlined the importance of the U.S. as a trading partner for Switzerland.

“We have committed ourselves to the establishment of a bilateral economic commission involving both government members and chief executive officers of private companies,” Couchepin said in his address to the European Institute in Washington.

He told journalists that the members of the commission and the precise mandate should be agreed by the end of September.

The setting up of a bilateral commission was agreed by U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss when they held talks on the fringes of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos in January.

That meeting was seen in Switzerland as signalling an easing of transatlantic relations, which had been rather strained over the issue of Holocaust-era Jewish assets in Swiss banks and Switzerland’s business dealings with Nazi Germany during World War II.

At the time, several U.S. banks and politicians warned Swiss banks of a boycott unless they showed more willingness to come clean on how many dormant assets were still in Swiss bank accounts.

In his speech in Washington on Tuesday, Couchepin played down the impact of the boycott threats.

“In spite of the question of dormant accounts and Switzerland’s role during World War II and the subsequent threats of economic sanctions, boycott and class action (lawsuits), our economic and trade relations have steadily grown over the past years,” Couchepin said.

The U.S. is Switzerland’s most important trading partner outside Europe and in 1998 alone absorbed 11 percent of all Swiss exports. Swiss investments in the U.S totalled over SFr57 billion ($38 billion) in 1997, making it the leading non-European investment market for Swiss companies.

Couchepin also addressed the upcoming ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle.

Echoing U.S. demands for further opening markets in goods, services and agriculture, Couchepin underlined the need to foster stronger cooperation in trade, finance and environmental protection.


From staff with wire reports.

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