Japanese and Swiss officials have begun free trade talks in the first attempt by Tokyo to sign a bilateral trade agreement with a European country.
An agreement with Switzerland that lowers tariffs would benefit Japan because 70 per cent of its exports are taxed at the Swiss border, Japanese officials said on Monday.
The first round of talks are being held in Tokyo and are scheduled to run for five days, with both sides seeking to promote trade in areas such as goods and services and to better protect intellectual property rights.
A free trade agreement would be the first between Japan and a European country, said Yoshihiro Ashihara of the economic affairs bureau of the Japanese foreign ministry.
Japan is seeking to export more electronic goods to Switzerland, while Swiss pharmaceutical and watch companies have been looking to boost shipments to Japan.
In January Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to start talks after the two countries had jointly studied possibilities since October 2005.
The study group had concluded that an agreement would significantly enhance bilateral economic relations and could strengthen the competitiveness of companies in both countries.
Jun Yokota, Japan's chief negotiator and ambassador for international trade and economic affairs, is representing Japan at the talks, while Luzius Wasescha, Switzerland's permanent representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO), is leading the Swiss delegation.
Last year the Swiss announced they were looking to boost free trade accords with other countries following the collapse in July 2006 of the Doha Round of world trade talks.
Negotiations between the European Union, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Australia and India failed at the time due to the intransigence of Washington and Brussels to give ground on agriculture, according to analysts.
Switzerland has also been pushing with more free trade agreements alongside its partners of the European Free Trade Association (Efta). Last year an accord was signed with Egypt, and talks with Canada and India are progressing.
swissinfo with agencies
Japan is Switzerland's third-most important trade partner, after the Europe Union and the United States.
Swiss exports to Japan in 2006 were valued at SFr6.7billion ($5.5 billion) and imports from Japan at around SFr3.1 billion.
As of the end of 2005, Swiss direct investment in Japan was valued at SFr7.7 billion, that of Japanese direct investment in Switzerland at SFr1.1 billion.
Bilateral links have existed since 1864 with the signing of a "Treaty of Amity and Trade".
During the Second World War, around 20 countries, among them the leading powers of the Allied Nations, entrusted Switzerland with the diplomatic representation of their interests in Japan, and Switzerland represented Japan's interests towards the Allied Nations.
Switzerland is the fifth-largest foreign direct investor in Japan.
Bilateral agreements cover air traffic, visas, double taxation and good laboratory practice.
A Swiss Business Hub was opened in Tokyo in November 2001.
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