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Swiss-US free trade deal on WEF agenda

US President Trump is visiting WEF's showcase event this month for a second year in a row. © KEYSTONE / GIAN EHRENZELLER

Switzerland wants to kick-start negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States at this month’s World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting. Efforts to revive an FTA, following the collapse of a previous attempt in 2006, have so far made slow progress.

This content was published on January 6, 2019 - 17:24

Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer, who holds this year’s rotating presidency, said Davos could be an ideal springboard to get fresh negotiations properly started. Maurer is due to meet US President Donald Trump at the summit which runs from January 22-25.

“The meeting is confirmed,” he told television station Tele Züri on Sunday. “We are trying to get the free trade agreement on track.”

Food and metal

Agriculture will likely be a key theme for the meeting. Though Swiss farmers have historically been wary of a trade deal with the US, they would also stand to gain from it, Edward McMullen, US Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, told in a recent interview.

“Swiss farmers could make a lot more money selling to the US than they do now,” pointed out McMullen, citing a new US appetite for Swiss products such as cheese and wine.

Tariffs on metal – and Trump’s mixed messages regarding them – are another potential discussion topic. In July, Switzerland initiated a World Trade Organization dispute settlement procedure following President Trump’s announcement on import duties. Switzerland exported steel products worth about CHF80 million ($80.5 million) last year.

Recent efforts

Former Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann first mooted the idea of reviving FTA talks between the two countries in September. But an initial meeting in December yielded little joy as the US chief negotiator was tied up with more pressing issues.

Schneider-Ammann was replaced by Guy Parmelin, a professional winegrower, at the beginning of this year. McMullen told last month that renewed negotiations stood a good chance of producing positive results.

Also in December, the Swiss parliament voiced its support for a trade deal, with Switzerland’s Senate calling on the Federal Council to “seek a free trade agreement or at least a preferential trade agreement with the USA”.

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