The president of the Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce, Franz Probst, says India offers an "enormous potential" for Swiss companies to try to tap.This content was published on January 18, 2006 - 18:16
Probst, a lawyer, is part of an economics delegation that is accompanying Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss on a five-day official visit to the country.
"Trade relations are far from what they could be... I would really wish to see them improve much more and faster. We have been talking about the opportunity of India for the past 20 years since the chamber was inaugurated," Probst told swissinfo.
Trade began to take off between the two countries in the early 1990s when India started to liberalise and open its markets.
"We do see in the past few years a substantial increase in the interest of Swiss companies in India but I'm sure that we are nowhere near to where we will be, say, in another five or ten years."
Switzerland exported goods to India worth just over SFr1 billion ($780 million) in 2004, up by 37.4 per cent over the previous year - mainly machinery, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
It imported Indian products (in particular textiles, chemicals and jewellery) valued at SFr548.1 million, up 9.6 per cent on 2003.
Traditionally Switzerland has enjoyed a trade surplus with India, which in 2004 reached SFr471 million.
While representatives of the Swiss pharmaceutical and machinery industries may well be trying to strengthen existing ties, the financial services industry will also be trying to gain a stronger foothold in the country.
Probst, who went to school in India and says he has an "ongoing love affair" with the country, believes there is one obvious sector that could benefit from outside help – infrastructure.
"There is a wide range of needs in India when it comes to infrastructure. This is probably one of the biggest difficulties that every entrepreneur going to India will immediately see and note."
There are many difficulties in terms of roads, airports and power. Those are areas where there's a big demand."
Probst says that India has a number of advantages over other countries when it comes to hard economic facts and feels it is no coincidence that it has made a name for itself in the IT field in recent years.
"This has to do with the excellent education and the enormous potential of human resources available in India."
Easy to motivate
He argues that most of the young, educated people are ambitious, willing to work, do not take issue too much with hierarchies and are comparatively easy to guide and motivate.
"These are just a few of the factors which make India an extremely attractive destination for Swiss businesses," he said.
But as with many other countries, there is a word of caution because doing business takes time, there is a considerable amount of red tape to overcome and there is a "sizeable amount" of corruption.
"It's extremely important that you do business with the right people. You have to be patient to overcome and deal with legal and regulatory barriers, and you have to take a long-term perspective.
As one of the Swiss business hubs in India puts it, to succeed on the Indian market, people should come prepared with the three "Ps" – Perseverance, Patience and Persistence."
swissinfo, Robert Brookes
2004 trade figures
Exports to India: SFr1.019 billion (up 37 % on 2003)
Imports from India: SFr548.1 million (up 9.6%)
Swiss direct investment: SFr165 million
There are about 130 Swiss businesses established in India, employing around 21,500 people.
Switzerland has concluded "umbrella" or bilateral agreements with India, allowing Swiss companies to develop business relationships on a solid legal basis.
These include a treaty of friendship (1948), as well as agreements on double taxation, promotion and protection of investments, air traffic, and scientific and technical cooperation.
A joint committee of representatives of the Indian ministry of trade and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs regularly analyses bilateral economic relations and deals with problems that arise.
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