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Free-trade accord with Japan edges closer

Schmid (left) shakes hands with Koizumi swissinfo.ch

President Samuel Schmid says Switzerland and Japan have moved closer to launching negotiations on a free-trade accord.

This content was published on April 18, 2005 - 11:19

He was speaking after a meeting in Tokyo on Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Schmid, who is on a week-long trip to Japan, told swissinfo that progress had been made since the Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, raised the issue when he met Koizumi last October.

"We have moved a step closer," said Schmid at the end of a half-hour meeting with Koizumi and senior Japanese government officials.

He added that he was pleased that Koizumi had been the first to raise the issue of a free-trade accord and that he had made it clear that such a treaty was in the interests of Japan.

According to Schmid, the Japanese prime minister stressed that he was keen to progress quickly with negotiations on an accord.

Talks next month

First discussions between Bern and Tokyo on the parameters of such an accord are scheduled to take place in the Swiss capital next month.

Schmid was unable to say when agreement might be reached, but Switzerland has stressed in the past that it is keen to strike a deal as soon as possible.

The Swiss government has been seeking for years to convince the Japanese of the benefits of a bilateral trade accord.

Japan is Switzerland’s third-largest trade partner after the United States and the European Union.

The two countries have already agreed to renegotiate a double-taxation accord, which currently penalises Swiss companies.

Security concerns

At a press conference following the talks, Schmid said he had not mentioned the current tensions between China and Japan.

But he said the issue did come up during informal discussions with Japanese parliamentarians.

"It is clear to me that Japan is doing all it can to bring the situation under control," he said.

Other items on the official agenda during Schmid’s meeting with Koizumi included the security situation in Asia and the status of Japan’s self-defence forces.

The Japanese constitution forbids the country’s military from taking part in armed combat. But soldiers are increasingly being deployed as part of multinational peacekeeping forces in trouble spots around the world.

Praise for neutrality

Schmid said Koizumi had used Monday’s meeting to express his "respect" for Switzerland’s policy of neutrality.

"Japan is interested in our way of doing things and of solving problems," he said, adding that the two countries had also discussed the issue of how to protect their civilian populations from the threat of terrorist acts and environmental disasters.

Schmid used the occasion to invite Koizumi to Switzerland, but no date for an official visit has been fixed.

Schmid, who is Switzerland's defence minister, later held talks with his Japanese counterpart, Yoshinori Ohno.

Before the Swiss president’s visit to Japan wraps up on Wednesday, he is due to pay a courtesy visit to the Imperial Palace for a meeting with Emperor Akihito.

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub in Tokyo

Key facts

Japan and Switzerland first established diplomatic and trade ties in 1864.
Switzerland is the seventh largest foreign direct investor in Japan.
Some 140 Swiss companies have set up offices in Japan.
Switzerland and Japan have signed a series of bilateral agreements pertaining to air traffic (1956), visas (1957) and the prevention of double taxation (1971).

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