The Swiss press has welcomed the role Switzerland played during marathon negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva.
Five days of talks concluded on Sunday with a landmark agreement to put global trade liberalisation talks back on track.
The framework accord foresees the gradual phasing out of protective tariffs and subsidies for farmers.
The Zurich-based “Tages-Anzeiger” said Switzerland – which celebrated National Day on Sunday – had more than one reason to be pleased with the weekend.
“It wasn’t only Swiss National Day that the president, Joseph Deiss, was celebrating on Sunday,” commented the paper in a front-page editorial.
“He received applause… in Geneva for leading the Swiss delegation which negotiated a framework accord that promises global free trade.”
Praise for Deiss
The Geneva-based “Le Temps” also had words of praise for the Swiss president, who attended the talks in his capacity as the country’s economics minister.
"It was a double victory for Deiss and his team. Switzerland will benefit from the WTO deal, and the country made a good name for itself as the head of the ‘Group of Ten’ bloc of nations."
Switzerland led the so-called “Group of Ten” nations, which heavily subsidise their farming sectors, and lobbied hard to preserve high tariffs for what the group considers to be “sensitive products”.
“This is no mean feat in a world where the voice of a small country with seven million people is becoming more and more difficult to hear,” wrote “Le Temps”.
The “Berner Zeitung” focused on the implications of the framework accord, saying that economic growth in a country the size of Switzerland was “dependent on free trade”, adding that “protectionist policies in the agricultural sector stand in the way of such growth”.
The paper said that Swiss farmers – who have criticised the WTO deal – must face up to the reality of a liberalised market.
“Swiss farmers – who contribute little to GDP – have to prepare for harder times, with or without the WTO. In the mid-term it will be impossible to defend the billions of francs in subsidies given to them.”
The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” reminded readers that the framework accord was only one step in the direction of restarting the so-called Doha round of global trade talks.
“The Doha round… will be concluded at the earliest by the end of 2005, a year later than originally planned. But a framework accord with goals and guidelines has now been agreed, after five days of hard-fought, round-the-clock negotiations.”
Price of failure
The paper added that the successful conclusion of the talks in Geneva was proof that the international community recognised that the price of failure was too high.
“The negotiations of the past few days show that WTO members are in agreement that failure will mean more than just a drop in living standards.”
The tabloid “Blick” was of the same opinion: “Many goods, particularly agricultural products, will become cheaper.
“This does not please farmers, who are the obvious losers. But it appears to successfully balance the interests of the various sectors of the economy.”
The French-speaking daily, “24 Heures”, described the deal as a “historic compromise” which has given new impetus to efforts to reform global trade.
The accord agreed on Saturday paves the way for full negotiations to begin in September.
The next WTO ministerial meeting is set for December 2005, by which time member states hope to have concluded a final accord.