Swiss business is gearing up for a major public relations event in the United Arab Emirates aimed at boosting trade ties. The exhibition in Dubai, called "Swiss Horizons", will be opened on Tuesday by the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin.
Although geographically small, the UAE wields impressive economic clout in the Gulf region. It's also a big importer of Swiss goods - particularly watches and machinery - buying around SFr500 million ($285 million) worth every year.
The UAE's importance to the Swiss economy is highlighted by the fact that more Swiss businesses are located in the two main emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai than in any other Gulf state.
Pascal Couchepin told swissinfo: "The UAE is important because it is a very rich part of the world and our exports to the emirates have tripled in the past 10 years. We must support this development."
He added that the UAE clearly sees Switzerland as a leading business partner. "Switzerland is a very important financial centre for Arab countries. Some even say Geneva is the second capital for the UAE - that's probably true."
Besides opening the three-day Swiss Horizons exhibition, Couchepin will also be meeting with the Crown Prince of Dubai, the UAE's economics minister and the Abu Dhabi Swiss Business Council.
"It is the first time a Swiss minister has made an official visit to the Emirates so first of all it is a political visit and a political sign of the importance we attribute to this country," he said.
Couchepin sees Swiss Horizons as an excellent opportunity for Swiss companies show off their products and skills. He is particularly keen that companies in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and IT sectors push their wares.
"I think [Swiss Horizons] is necessary because it is in Switzerland's interests to have a stronger presence in this area," he said. "We also need to expand our exports beyond watches and machines."
The event has been organised by the Swiss Business Council in Dubai, and is supported by the Swiss Government, the Swiss Embassy in the UAE, and the Swiss Consulate General in Dubai.
Helping to promote Switzerland at the event is the world-renowned balloonist, Bertrand Piccard, as well as Montreux Jazz festival organiser, Claude Nobs.
They have been joined by 20 life-sized fibreglass cows, which were specially shipped in to add some colour to the event. Whatever the outcome, the Gulf's view of Switzerland will certainly be broadened at Swiss Horizons.
by Tom O'Brien