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Leuthard wraps up free-trade talks in China

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard discussed free trade Keystone

Free trade, human rights and the environment have dominated a three-day visit to China by Economics Minister Doris Leuthard.

This content was published on May 12, 2008 - 19:04

The ministry said that Leuthard fulfilled her main objective, which was to hold meetings with the new Chinese trade minister, Chen Deming.

The economics minister met Chen's predecessor, Bo Xilai, almost one year ago, establishing an initial framework for trade discussions.

Both governments have described the latest talks in Shanghai as constructive.

Switzerland and China have pledged to continue discussions, which still remain at an early stage, according to spokesman Christophe Hans.

Hans added that a number of contentious issues remained unresolved – primarily concerns surrounding intellectual property in Switzerland's heavy machinery, pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

China is Switzerland's largest trading partner in Asia and a net importer in those sectors.

Confidence

Leuthard expressed confidence following the talks that Chinese authorities were improving their response to intellectual property theft, but more progress is still needed, the ministry said.

The Swiss government has already completed a feasibility study on free trade between the two countries. It concluded that a deal would be mutually beneficial.

China, the world's largest country in terms of population, is slated to conduct its own review, although a deadline has yet to be set.

Once complete, the two countries will engage in a joint evaluation, according to the ministry.

Environment and human rights

Cooperation on environmental issues between the two countries was another major item on Leuthard's agenda.

China, which is to play host to the Olympic Summer Games in August in the capital Beijing, is bedevilled by increasingly grim environmental problems.

The country's rapid economic growth has been accompanied by equally astonishing challenges including heavy smog and poor water quality in its major cities.

It has also received criticism for its construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest.

During her visit, Leuthard identified the potential for Switzerland to share its water quality expertise as part of a regional trial project in China, although neither side released details.

On the human rights front, the economics minister reiterated the government's welcoming of a Chinese offer to meet envoys of the Dalai Lama.

Leuthard's previous visit in 2007 did not broach the subject of human rights.

In April, the Chinese embassy in Bern refused to accept a petition containing nearly 25,000 signatures calling on the country to improve human rights.

swissinfo with agencies

"Most important" trading partner

China has been Switzerland's most important Asian trading partner since 2002, according to the economics ministry.

In 2006, Swiss exports to that country totalled SFr4.1 billion ($3.93 billion).

It imported SFr3.9 billion worth of Chinese goods.

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Exports to China

Machine industry
Chemical products
Watchmaking
Pharma products
Optical and medical instruments

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Imports from China

Machines
Textiles
Chemical products
Watchmaking

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