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Covid-19, peace-making dominate Canadian foreign minister’s Swiss visit

Canada and Switzerland are "natural allies", said François-Philippe Champagne, who together with Ignazio Cassis held up stickers commemorating 75 years of bilateral relations between the two countries during his official visit to Bern. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis met his Canadian counterpart on Monday to discuss a range of international challenges and mark 75 years of diplomatic relations between their countries.

This content was published on August 24, 2020 - 16:44

“It’s an exceptional visit,” Cassis said of François-Philippe Champagne’s official stop in Bern, singling out the countries’ shared interests and values, including federalism and multilingualism, as the two men addressed each other in Italian and French at a joint press conference.

At the top of their meeting agenda was the ongoing pandemic. Cassis stressed the need for international cooperation in the search for a vaccine and eventually ensuring access to one. The two countries have been helping each other during the pandemic, the two men noted, notably with the supply of medication through a reciprocal agreement.

The pair also discussed several pressing foreign policy issues, including the situation in Lebanon following the deadly explosion in Beirut, the Middle East peace process, and anti-government protests in Belarus. Both ministers described bilateral relations with China as being “complex” and expressed concern about the implications of a new national security law for civil liberties in Hong Kong and the “one-country, two systems” principle.

Intensifying ties

Switzerland has been working closely with Canada since Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down shortly after take-off from the Iranian capital last January. In addition to repatriating the bodies of 57 Canadians killed in the crash, Champagne said Canada was looking for a transparent accounting of the incident. Since 2019 Switzerland has represented Iran’s interests in Canada, which broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2012.

Calling the two countries “natural allies,” on the economic front Champagne said he had “a lot of ambitions for Swiss-Canadian relations.”

“There is a strong basis for strengthening ties and facilitating the entry of Swiss businesses to the North American market and working together on research and development,” he said.

Canada is Switzerland’s second-biggest trading partner in the Americas. In 2019 the Alpine nation exported CHF4.4 billion ($4.8 billion) worth of goods, much of it consisting of pharmaceutical products, to Canada. Over 40,000 Swiss nationals call the country home.

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