Free trade agreement with Egypt signed
Switzerland and its fellow European Free Trade Association (Efta) members have signed a free trade agreement with Egypt.
An economics ministry statement, issued on Saturday, also announced that Efta ministers had met the Indonesian trade minister with a view to concluding a similar accord.
Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard, and the other European Free Trade Association (Efta) ministers from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, signed the agreement with Egypt on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.
The ministry said that the accord would liberalise trade in industrial products and processed agricultural products. It also contains provisions for protecting intellectual property rights, competition and technical cooperation.
"Switzerland takes all the opportunities it can to improve its economic relations and Egypt is a country that is pretty interesting for us in terms of our services and industrial products," Leuthard told swissinfo.
"On the agricultural side, Egypt has some products that would be very interesting for us. This does not change the situation very much for our farmers and they are products that are in demand by consumers."
For his part, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, the Egyptian minister of trade and industry, said he hoped the deal would open up business opportunities and cement relations between Efta and Egypt.
He said that ties were already good with Switzerland.
"We already have many Swiss investments in Egypt and some Egyptian investors in Switzerland. We would like more," he told swissinfo.
The Swiss economics ministry said that provisions for services, investments and public procurement would be negotiated at a later date. The accords for agricultural products would be decided between Egypt and each Efta state individually, as in other agreements.
Efta's deal with Egypt forms part of its efforts to participate in the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area, which is being set up by the European Union as part of the Barcelona Declaration on political, economic and social relations with southern Mediterranean countries.
Efta already has agreements with several countries in the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area, such as Turkey and Israel.
The Swiss economics ministry reiterated that free trade agreements were one of the main pillars of the country's foreign trade policy.
It confirmed this direction following the collapse last July of the Doha Round of world trade talks.
A week ago it was announced that Switzerland and Japan had agreed to start free trade talks for what is Tokyo's first attempt at a bilateral trade agreement with a European country.
However, earlier on Saturday Leuthard chaired a ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the WEF, in which she reported that participants were committed to resuming world trade negotiations. But no timetable has yet been set.
The economics ministry also said in its statement that Efta states had met Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu. Ministers reviewed the findings of a joint study group established a year ago to discuss the feasibility of a comprehensive trade agreement, it said.
The study group concluded that both sides would benefit from such a deal and ministers agreed to prepare the ground for a decision on launching negotiations.
Free trade is an international trade system which is based on reducing the barriers to the free circulation of goods and services.
Switzerland has followed this policy for a while. It either signs accords individually or through Efta, which also includes Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.
Apart from the Egypt deal, 15 free trade accords have been signed between Efta and other countries. This includes Turkey, Israel, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon and Tunisia in the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area.
Recent Swiss negotiations with the US on free trade have however stalled.
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