Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has visited Genoa in Italy to open a conference on small businesses together with her Italian counterpart, Emma Bonino.
Leuthard gave a speech on Thursday to 200 people attending the first edition of "Genoa 2006 – The Meeting" organised to help support small and medium-sized businesses.
The ministers were meeting to help further stimulate the already flourishing trade between both countries.
Italy overtook France some two years ago as Switzerland's second largest trading partner, commented Leuthard. Recently Italo-Swiss trade relations have increased annually by ten per cent and the potential for further growth is thought to exist.
Currently, some 85 per cent of trade with Italy takes place with the north of the country. As a result, the next edition of the small business meeting will be held in the south so as to develop relations with this market, explained the Swiss economics minister in fluent Italian.
"We need appropriate infrastructure in order to manage the growth in trade [between both countries]. With the development of the train link under the Alps, Switzerland is making an important contribution to an efficient north-south European train route," she commented.
The economics minister urged Italy to build the necessary rail links south of the new Lötschberg/Simplon and Gothard routes.
"Italy has woken up after a long siesta," commented the Italian trade minister, describing Italy's slowness. She explained that Italy plans to invest billions of euros to improve its infrastructure in the Po region in order to develop north-south connections.
Bonino went on to explain that private funds would also be used to finance this infrastructure. And as Italy works best under pressure, this project should be finalised relatively quickly, she added.
But Dagmar Schmid, the advisor to the Swiss embassy in Italy, told swissinfo there were still some delays.
"There is still some work to do to connect the port of Genoa to the Lötschberg line, as building has not started in some areas," she said.
Schmid, who is also in charge of organising the Genoa meeting, underlined the importance of the cooperation between Italian and Swiss SMEs.
"In certain situations there are still language and cultural barriers. But through events such as this one, we can help facilitate business contacts between both sides."
swissinfo with agencies
Italy is Switzerland's second most important trading partner (9.8% of trade) after Germany (25.4%) and ahead of France (9.3%).
Switzerland's trade balance with Italy is traditionally negative (Switzerland imports more than it exports). In 2005 the negative balance amounted to SFr1.7 billion ($1.35 billion).
Italy is the second largest supplier to Switzerland (11% of imports) and the fourth largest export market for Switzerland (9% of exports).
Switzerland's main exports to Italy are chemical products and pharmaceuticals, machines and electricity. Its main imports are tools and pharmaceutical products, clothing, agricultural products and foodstuffs.
85% of all Swiss trade with Italy takes place with northern Italy, including Tuscany.