Exporters are to receive more help, under a new trade promotion law passed unanimously by the Swiss senate. The legislation, which also needs approval by the House of Representatives, would replace a law from 1927.
Under the law, a new organisation would be set up to promote exports. It would focus on helping small and medium-sized businesses, which make up 90 per cent of Swiss industry but are often inexperienced in export marketing.
For the past 70 years, the Swiss Office for Trade Promotion (OSEC) has been responsible for helping exporters, although its assistance has largely been limited to financial backing. The new law foresees widening this role to focus on three main tasks: foreign market information for firms in Switzerland, arranging contacts abroad, and advertising campaigns in other countries.
OSEC is likely to be chosen as the organisation responsible for the new role, but the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, told the senate the government wanted to retain some room for manoeuvre.
He criticised OSEC, saying that trade promotion efforts at the moment only reached 10 per cent of their potential.
Couchepin also warned OSEC that if it wanted the mandate, it would have to reorganise and reposition itself. The new law foresees a credit of SFr3.6 million to OSEC for the restructuring, and a budget of SFr40.8 million for the period 2001-03.
by Peter Haller