A four-day visit to Poland and Lithuania by Economics Minister Joseph Deiss has been dominated by talks on agriculture, exports and transfer payments.This content was published on March 4, 2006 - 13:35
Deiss wrapped up his eastern European swing in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, where he and his Lithuanian counterpart expressed an interest in increasing trade.
Deiss said he had raised the issue of a possible free-trade accord with the European Union on agriculture, a subject he also broached earlier in the week with the Polish government.
Switzerland's contribution to the Cohesion Fund for the ten new EU states was also high on Deiss's agenda.
Switzerland formalised the details on Monday, when Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey signed a memorandum in Brussels pledging SFr1 billion ($760 million) to the fund over five years.
The aim of the fund is to reduce social and economic disparities in the new member states.
The memorandum sets out how Bern will finance various projects and allows for Switzerland to negotiate programmes and projects with each of the new states.
As the largest of the new entrants, Poland stands to receive almost half the funding (SFr489 million), whereas SFr71 million is earmarked for Lithuania.
Deiss's visit paved the way for talks between the Swiss and the Polish and Lithuanian authorities to define how and in which sectors the money will be spent.
In the 1990s, Switzerland funded various projects in Lithuania, including programmes to improve the health care system and environment.
Accompanying Deiss on his trip from were representatives of Switzerland's second largest bank Credit Suisse, pharmaceuticals giant Novartis and the electricity concern Atel.
The business leaders criticised the bureaucratic hurdles and taxation rates faced by foreign companies wishing to invest in Poland.
Swiss exports to Lithuania are growing rapidly, having gone from SFr95 million in 2004 to SFr107 million last year.
Switzerland is currently Lithuania's biggest export market (SFr49 million in 2005 or 11.7 per cent of all Lithuanian exports), ahead of Russia and Germany.
swissinfo with agencies
Poland is the number one destination for direct Swiss investments in central and eastern Europe (SFr1.96 billion in 2003).
Swiss investments in Lithuania amounted to SF124 million in 2005.
Last year, Swiss exports to Poland totalled SFr1.4 billion. Exports were made up mainly of pharmaceutical products, machines and chemical products.
Exports to Lithuania in the same period totalled SFr107 million. These were mainly vehicles/planes, machines and chemical products.
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