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Leuthard wants free trade accord with Japan

Switzerland wants closer trade ties with Japan

(Keystone)

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard says she would like to open negotiations with Tokyo on a free-trade agreement between Switzerland and Japan as soon as possible.

Leuthard met the Japanese agriculture minister, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, in Bern on Tuesday to discuss the idea.

The Swiss economics ministry said in a communiqué that there were few issues preventing such an accord.

Switzerland has had a positive trade balance with Japan for more than ten years and last year exported goods worth about SFr6 billion ($4.81 billion) to the country. Imports from Japan totalled about SFr3 billion.

Speaking about the stalled Doha Round of world liberalisation talks at the World Trade Organization, Leuthard said "all parties had to show flexibility" so that the negotiations could finish in the next few months.

The talks, which should have been completed by the end of the year, have been in an impasse since July.

Brussels

Earlier on Tuesday, Leuthard was in Brussels talking to the European Union on mainly agricultural issues, including a dispute over quality labels for regional products.

While the designation of origin label (AOC) protects such Swiss products as Emmental and Gruyère cheese in Switzerland, it is not recognised in the EU.

The two sides have been discussing the dossier since 1999 but have so far failed to come to an agreement.

But after her talks with EU Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, Leuthard said she was positive.

"The mutual desire to settle this problem is considerable," she commented.

She added that she expected that the EU Commission would receive a mandate to open negotiations with Switzerland in the coming months.

A spokesman for Fischer Boel said a solution was being sought but it was too early to say what this might be.

Emmental

It is clear, however, that Brussels will hardly accept Emmental cheese as an AOC product.

Emmental cheese, which is known as Swiss cheese in North America, has been produced worldwide for decades – hence the reason why Brussels does not recognise it as a regional product.

Leuthard also discussed the possibility of an agricultural free trade agreement with the EU.

But while the EU would like to see agricultural duties abolished, Bern would also like to see liberalisation of branches around agriculture.

There would also have to be similar regulations, for example, for fertilisers, pesticides or safety of tractors so that Swiss farmers would be in a position to reduce their costs.

As a result there would be the thorny issue whether Switzerland would have to recognize the corresponding EU regulations.

swissinfo with Simon Thönen in Brussels

Key facts

In 2005 167,706 tons of cheese were produced in Switzerland. 33.6% of it was exported (56,433 tons). 31,508 tons of cheese were imported into Switzerland. In 2005 the Swiss ate an average of 20 kilograms of cheese per person.

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In brief

Emmental takes its name from the rural Emmental region in canton Bern. It is also produced in other parts of Switzerland, and in many other countries.

More than 32,000 tons of Emmental were produced in Switzerland last year, about 5,000 tons more than the second-biggest seller, Gruyère.

About three-quarters of Emmental produced was exported.

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Switzerland-Japan

Bilateral links have existed since 1864 with the signing of a "Treaty of Amity and Trade".

During the Second World War, about 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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