Watch and jewellery makers from Hong Kong are to return to a major Swiss trade fair in 2004, after being banned from this year’s event following fears over the Sars virus.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC) and Baselworld organisers signed an agreement on Thursday guaranteeing Hong Kong’s participation until 2009.
In May, the TDC and Baselworld lodged separate appeals against the Swiss Federal Health Office after it imposed a ban on staff and visitors from Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Vietnam just two days before the fair opened.
Thomas Zeltner, director of the Federal Health Office, said at the time that the restrictions were designed to prevent the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
The ban affected more than 300 exhibitors and around 2,500 staff from Hong Kong - the second-biggest delegation at the fair after the Swiss.
The TDC said on Thursday that Hong Kong exhibitors “will enjoy prime location in a brand new exhibition edifice alongside the existing Baselworld venue”.
The exhibitors were previously located an hour away from Basel at a site in Zurich, due to limited space at what is the world’s largest jewellery and watch fair.
“This is a new partnership between the TDC and Baselworld which secures Hong Kong’s participation for years to come on far more favourable terms,” said TDC deputy executive director, Frederick Lam.
The TDC placed the cost at having to withdraw from the fair at around HK$50 million (SFr9 million) in airfares, hotels and marketing costs. The total loss of trade is estimated to be far higher.
Elke Brockmann, spokeswoman for the TDC, told swissinfo in May that the ban was “discriminatory and unjustified” and had led to heavy financial losses for Hong Kong firms.
“The decree was enforced in such a way that the firms were unable to conduct business at the stands [during the fairs],” she added.
The Federal Health Office defended its decision to restrict access to Baselworld, saying it was justified in taking such action at a critical phase of the Sars epidemic.
“To have underestimated the situation could have lead to a disaster in Switzerland,” vice-director Dieter Hartmann said in May.
swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin
Baselworld watch and jewellery fair organisers say Hong Kong will return to the 2004 event after Swiss authorities effectively banned it over Sars fears in 2003.
Hong Kong will now be allowed to set up it stalls in Basel rather than Zurich, where it and other national pavilions were moved to as a result of limited exhibition space.
In May, the TDC and Baselworld lodged separate appeals against the Swiss Federal Health Office after it imposed the ban on staff and visitors from four Asian states.
The TDC said it lost around HK$50 million (SFr9 million) as a result of having to withdraw from the 2003 fair.