The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has said that Switzerland's growth-oriented economic policy has paid off, and the economy is "right on course".This content was published on July 6, 2001 - 16:03
However, he warned that halfway into the current legislative period, Switzerland must make the best use of its strong economic performance to set new objectives.
Couchepin, who became economics minister three years ago, said that priorities included the partial revision of the competition law and the long-term continuation of agricultural reform.
In his interim statement on the guidelines of the economics ministry, Couchepin said that one trend in particular was a source of concern.
"Despite our sound economic performance and low unemployment, many wage earners in Switzerland live in relative poverty despite their regular income," he said.
"This problem will be a challenge for us all in the coming years," he added.
Speaking at his regular annual meeting with journalists on St Peter's Island this week, Couchepin repeated his conviction that a liberal policy was the best way to maintain sustainable economic growth.
"I am equally convinced that our liberal economic policy is a policy of integration and participation," he said.
He singled out labour market policy as a good example. "The unemployment rate in Switzerland in June has gone down to 1.6 per cent from 1.7 per cent the previous month," he said.
"Despite massive job losses in the 1990s, today's employment figures have reached record highs. Statistics show that relative to population size, Switzerland has far more people in employment than the European Union, the United States or Japan," he added.
Couchepin said a careful balance between social security protection for wage earners and flexibility for the labour market ensured that as many people as possible, including those less qualified, were integrated into the workplace.
"This is the key to Switzerland's continued success," he said.
Looking ahead, Couchepin said his ministry's external trade policy would continue to pursue its traditional priorities.
These include closer ties with the European Union, particularly in the areas of processed agricultural products, liberalisation of trade in services, the environment and education. Other areas include negotiations on tax fraud, taxation of interest, and the Schengen (internal security) and Dublin agreements (asylum).
Other priorities include the signing of free trade agreements within the framework of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is a member, and in particular with countries and regional groupings, such as Canada, Chile, Singapore, South Africa, Mercosur and the Gulf states.
Couchepin, a firm supporter of the World Trade Organisation, also said he supported the launching of a new world trade round at the Qatar ministerial conference in November.
He said that meeting would aim to adapt the multilateral trade system to meet the challenges of globalisation and to better integrate the economies of developing countries.
As far as competition is concerned, Couchepin said debate would focus on the partial revision of the competition law, with the goal of introducing direct measures to combat cartels and abuse of dominant market positions.
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