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EU’s new heavyweight talks trade with Bern

Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski wants to do more business with Switzerland

(Keystone)

The Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, arrived in Switzerland on Wednesday for a two-day state visit.

The leader of the European Union’s biggest new member state is keen to assure his hosts that bilateral ties won’t be affected by Warsaw’s new allegiances to Brussels.

Kwasniewski told the “NZZ am Sonntag” newspaper that Poland had benefited more than any other central European country from Swiss largesse – to the tune of SFr120 million ($95 million) since 1990.

He added that Bern could count on Warsaw’s goodwill if it had any problems in its dealings with the EU, of which Switzerland is not a member.

He also said Polish membership would offer new opportunities for Swiss investors. “[Membership] will most likely open new perspectives for our bilateral cooperation,” he told the paper.

Influential

Poland joined the EU on May 1, along with nine other states. With 38 million inhabitants the country is larger than all the other new members put together, and will become one of the more influential states in the enlarged EU.

Polish presidents have made state visits to Switzerland before – Lech Walesa was here in 1994 – but this is the first since the country joined the Union.

The Swiss National Bank says Switzerland ranks 15th in terms of direct investment in Poland, behind countries such as Germany, France and Britain. Poland attracts at least one in four francs invested in central and eastern Europe.

Kwasniewski says trade volume between the two countries was almost $1.2 billion in 2003, with pharmaceuticals accounting for the bulk of Swiss exports.

Exports

“The three main sectors – the pharmaceutical industry, chemical products, and machinery – cover about 75 per cent [of Swiss exports to Poland],” Siamak Rouhani, country deputy at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), told swissinfo.

The volume of trade between the two countries rose by more than 30 per cent in the first seven months of the year after stagnating for the past two or three years. But it is not clear how much of this gain was driven by Poland’s accession to the EU.

Rouhani says trade volume is expected to increase even more over the next few years.

But he does not expect a sudden increase in investment by Swiss companies because they were already boosting their activities in Poland before May 1, 2004.

Transition

Since the end of the Cold War, the Swiss government has financially supported the transition process in central and eastern Europe at a political, economic and social level.

Kwasniewski told the “NZZ am Sonntag” that Poland would be with the EU on issues such as tax policy or customs regulations – two major sticking points between Bern and Brussels. But he said Poland would not forget Switzerland during difficult negotiations.

The new EU member has already clashed with the Union’s heavyweights, France and Germany, by supporting the United States-led war in Iraq.

Warsaw also outraged Germany and some other EU states by blocking moves towards qualified majority voting before it joined the Union.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Poland joined the European Union on May 1.
In December 2000, Kwasniewski was elected president for a second term.

end of infobox

In brief

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is paying a two-day state visit to Switzerland.

He will meet Swiss President Joseph Deiss and the cabinet to discuss Swiss-Polish relations.

He will also meet students and staff at the University of Fribourg.

end of infobox


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