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Deiss pushes for trade agreement with Malaysia

Joseph Deiss (right) and Rafidah Aziz discussed free trade in Kuala Lumpur

(Keystone)

Economics Minister Joseph Deiss has made progress towards a free-trade accord between the European Free Trade Association (Efta), which includes Switzerland, and Malaysia.

Deiss, who was on his last foreign trip before leaving the cabinet, said in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on Saturday that the Malaysian government was receptive to the idea.

"Concrete negotiations could begin next year," announced Deiss, who had earlier held talks with Malaysia's trade and industry minister, Rafidah Aziz.

Negotiations on a free-trade agreement will be preceded by a feasibility study, conducted by both Efta and Malaysia.

Switzerland currently holds the chairmanship of Efta, whose members include Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

"Malaysia is an innovative country that harbours a great deal of potential," added Deiss.

Big potential

A representative of Switzerland's pharmaceutical branch, Novartis director Alexandre Jetzer, spoke of the major cooperation potential for both countries.

But Jetzer, who is part of a delegation of business leaders accompanying Deiss, also pointed out that Swiss drugmakers were fighting in Malaysia and in other countries for a transition period for data protection after patents had expired.

Aziz said she took the concerns of the Swiss pharmaceutical branch seriously, adding that patent protection was in Malaysia's own interest.

The delegation also called for more direct flights between Zurich and Malaysia to promote business. Currently there are three such flights a week, offered by Swiss International Air Lines and Air Malaysia.

"If there are too few direct connections per week, business quickly goes elsewhere," commented Kurt Meier, a director of the umbrella organisation of the engineering industry, Swissmem.

"The ideal situation would be five connections a week," Deiss said, adding that for this to happen Zurich airport had to assert its position as a hub and Air Malaysia had to make price concessions.

WTO

Deiss and Aziz also touched on the stalled Doha round of trade liberalisation negotiations at the World Trade Organization.

"We both agree that it is high time to make progress and get the process moving again," Deiss stressed.

But in the WTO talks, Switzerland and Malaysia have very different positions. Industrialised countries, including Switzerland, believe emerging nations that are calling for the abolition of customs duties and agricultural subsidies should open up their markets.

Deiss, who is staying in Malaysia until Sunday, has a number of other political meetings and visits to Swiss enterprises on his agenda.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Economics Minister Joseph Deiss says free-trade agreements are key to maintaining diversified foreign economic relations for Switzerland.

Over the past 15 years Efta states have concluded a considerable number of trade accords in Europe, the Mediterranean and other parts of the world. The last one was signed with the South African Customs Union on July 1.

Deiss says the main objective of Efta's free-trade accord policy is to improve market access and to maintain the competitiveness of Efta economies.

He adds that the accords do not apply to trade in goods alone but should also aim to liberalise trade in services.

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Key facts

Malaysia is Switzerland's third-biggest trading partner in southeast Asia, after Singapore and Thailand.
Trade with Malaysia is worth around SFr800 million ($650 million).
Around 120 Swiss businesses, employing almost 20,000 staff, have a presence in Malaysia. They include ABB, Novartis, Roche and Holcim.

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