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Deiss to talk trade in Tripoli

Libya and its capital Tripoli are a promising market

(Keystone)

Joseph Deiss will become the first Swiss cabinet minister to make an official visit to Libya when he embarks on a three-day trip to Tripoli on Friday.

The economics minister will hold talks with the Libyan government in a bid to boost bilateral relations and promote business ties with Switzerland.

Deiss is leading a small Swiss delegation and is due to meet his Libyan counterpart, Abd al-Qadir Bilkhair, as well as several other government ministers.

Libya is Switzerland's second-largest trading partner on the African continent, behind South Africa.

Jörg Reding, a senior official at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) who led an exploratory trade delegation to Libya last year, is pleased with the latest trade figures.

"We have had a 55 per cent increase in exports - mainly from the machinery, pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors - to Libya last year and a further 41 per cent for the first six months of the year, even if we consider a knock-on effect of high petrol prices," Reding told swissinfo.

Trade balance

While exports reached SFr189.5 million ($150.5 million) in 2004, imports from Libya were higher, standing at SFr790 million. Petroleum makes up nearly 100 per cent of Libyan exports to Switzerland.

Reding says there is no reason for concern about the negative trade balance with Libya, which is a result of the high petroleum supplies.

But he admits that this situation is rather unusual in trade relations with an emerging-markets country.

Libya is a particularly interesting partner for Switzerland because of the North African country's relatively good financial situation. Its economy has grown considerably over the past few years and this trend is likely to continue in the near future.

"We believe we can offer investment opportunities in the goods, engineering and consultancy sectors as well as in tourism and health services," said Reding.

Excellent reputation

Switzerland also hopes to be able to build on its excellent reputation in Libya.

"The Lake Geneva region is very popular among Libyan tourists and many Libyans come to Switzerland for healthcare," said Reding.

Reding, who is accompanying Deiss on his visit, welcomes the moves to reform and liberalise the Libyan market in the wake of the lifting of United Nations sanctions against the regime of leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2003.

But he points out that reforms take time and that state bureaucracy continues to play an important role.

Libya is not a member of the World Trade Organization and does not have a bilateral trade agreement with Switzerland. However, an investment-protection agreement between the two countries came into force in May last year.

Human rights

Reding does not rule out the possibility that human-rights issues will come up during the visit to Tripoli.

But he stressed that the focus would clearly be on economic topics.

In its 2005 report, Human Rights Watch acknowledged that Libya had taken important steps to improve its human-rights record.

But it said serious problems remained, including restrictions on freedom of expression and the detention of political prisoners.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

Libya is Switzerland's second largest trading partner in Africa and provides more than 40% of Swiss crude oil imports.
In 2004 imports from Libya, consisting almost exclusively of petroleum, increased by 4.5% to SFr790 million.
Exports, mainly in the machinery and pharmaceutical industries, soared by 55% to SFr189.5 million in the same year.

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