Switzerland has moved closer to sealing a free trade agreement with India following a business delegation visit led by Economics Minister Doris Leuthard.This content was published on May 2, 2008 - 18:47
Bern is also seeking to boost ties with India on a broad range of other issues including science, education, research and the environment.
Leuthard's trip was the third official visit by a Swiss government minister to the subcontinent over the last nine months and marked the 60th anniversary of the signature of a Friendship Treaty with independent India.
Switzerland has been pursuing free trade agreements with individual countries after the collapse of world trade talks in 2006. Official negotiations between India and the European Free Trade Association (Efta), of which Switzerland is a member, started in January.
India is one of the world's fastest expanding economies, enjoying double digit gross domestic product (GDP) growth in recent years, which reached $1 trillion (SFr1.06 trillion) in 2007.
Following talks earlier this week with Indian trade and industry minister, Kamal Nath, Leuthard declared the trade agreement could be signed within a year.
The two ministers also discussed patents, which has been a thorny issue between the two countries since Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, was denied protection for a cancer drug last year. Leuthard said she was satisfied that progress was being made.
In talks with senior representatives of India's central bank on Friday the Swiss delegation called for a further liberalisation of India's financial sector.
Leuthard said she thanked the Indian authorities for granting the Switzerland's leading UBS bank a licence in March.
She said a similar permission for the Credit Suisse bank was being examined. The procedure could take up four months.
During the five-day visit the Swiss delegation of representatives from 25 companies visited the Indian production site of Swiss food manufacturers Nestlé at Nanjangud in the south west of the country.
The company has been present in India since 1912 and began production there in 1961, now employing 7,000 staff with an annual turnover of SFr1 billion.
Leuthard consecrated an environmental project at the plant that will reduce its water consumption by 20 per cent, or 250 cubic metres a day.
Nestlé is one of 150 Swiss companies to have a presence in India, employing a combined workforce of 41,000.
Leuthard was shown the Maruti Suzuki car manufacturing plant in Gurgaon, near to the capital of New Delhi. The factory is joint-owned by the Indian state and Japanese company Suzuki.
Although Switzerland has no car manufacturing industry, some 250 companies produce and supply parts. The industry is worth around SFr7 billion annually and employs around 25,000 workers.
swissinfo with agencies
Switzerland is seeking free trade accord with India, Japan, Indonesia and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
It is Leuthard's second visit to India since last August.
Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited India in November.
Swiss mercenaries fought with French and British forces during the colonisation of India in the 18th century. In 1851 the Volkart Trading Company, described as the Swiss equivalent of the British East India Company, set up in Bombay.
Switzerland was the first country to sign a Friendship and Settlement Treaty with the newly independent India on August 14, 1948.
During the Bangladesh dispute Switzerland acted as an intermediary between India and Pakistan from 1971 to 1976.
Trade volume between the two countries totalled SFr3.3 billion ($3.2 billion) in 2007 – up 24% on the previous year. Swiss exports to India rose by 22.3% reaching SFr 2.3 billion. Imports from India last year were valued at SFr950 million (+ 29%).
There are around 150 Swiss companies in India, including Holcim, Novartis, ABB, Nestlé and Sulzer, employing 41,000 people.
At the end of 2006, 707 Swiss were living in India with 6,984 Indians in Switzerland.
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