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Ignazio Cassis Free trade and banking will be focus of Swiss foreign minister’s India visit

protest in India against Novartis

The question of patents in the pharma sector has been a bone of contention that has stalled free trade negotiations.


Ignazio Cassis will attempt to jump-start discussions with India on a tricky free trade deal that has been in limbo since negotiations began ten years ago. 

The foreign affairs minister will be in India from August 9 to 12 to mark 70 years of a Friendship Treatyexternal link signed between the two countries on August 14, 1948. 

The official visit will also see Cassis discuss with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj a free trade deal between India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is a member. 

The sometimes-difficult negotiations over the potential agreement have been ongoing since 2008, patent protection proving to be a major roadblock: the Swiss pharmaceutical industry insists on comprehensive protection, which it believes is not guaranteed in India. 

Another important area of discussion is this year's entry into force of the automatic exchange of financial account information in tax matters between India and Switzerland. In 2016, the two countries signed a joint declaration that will ensure that financial information on bank accounts held by Indians in Switzerland and vice versa will be shared annually. The first exchanges will begin in 2019. 

“Mr Cassis will seize the opportunity to explain that Switzerland's financial centre is beyond reproach and that undeclared assets will not be tolerated in Swiss accounts,” said an official statementexternal link on Wednesday. 

Other topics of discussion will be nuclear weapons control, climate change, reform of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council. Switzerland’s regional policy and India's relations with neighbours China, Pakistan and Bangladesh will also be broached. 

Cassis will also meet representatives of the private sector. He will visit the offices of technology firm Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Noida (designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta) and meet the founders of PayTM, a mobile telephony service provider that was recently granted a licence. 

Unlike most dignitaries, the Swiss foreign affairs minister is not scheduled to see the Taj Mahal but will visit India’s largest mosque (the Jama Masjid in Delhi) as well as the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

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