Struggling small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be looking for signs of encouragement at the fifth Swiss Economic Forum, which began on Thursday.This content was published on May 8, 2003 - 09:55
Smaller firms, which account for 99 per cent of businesses in Switzerland, have suffered badly amid the economic downturn.
Around 1,000 people are due to gather at the two-day forum, which is taking place in Thun, in canton Bern, to discuss ways of optimising basic business conditions. This year's theme is "Trust and Growth".
"The SEF is taking place for the fifth time. For one thing, it is about figuring out where we are at this point - it is also about prospects," Stefan Linder, the SEF's chief executive, told swissinfo.
Trust and growth
Economics minister Joseph Deiss and industry chiefs, like Jürgen Dormann of engineering group ABB and André Dosé of the national carrier, Swiss, will be making an appearance at the forum. The event is being opened by former cabinet minister, Adolf Ogi.
The forum considers itself a representative of Switzerland's 300,000 SMEs - firms employing less than 250 staff.
Eighty-eight per cent of all Swiss enterprises employ fewer than ten people. Around two-thirds of all employees work for a SME.
"It [the forum] should lead to an exchange between participants, especially between representatives of large corporations and SMEs," commented Linder.
The SEF slogan - "Trust and Growth" - is virtually identical to that of the World Economic Forum, held in Davos at the beginning of the year.
Loss of trust and the general economic downturn are likely to be high on the agenda at this year's meeting in Thun.
A survey conducted by UBS bank in April revealed that SMEs have been strongly affected by the current economic climate and are facing a slower recovery.
On Wednesday the Swiss Institute for Business Cycle Research offered little hope to firms, suggesting that the economy would continue to stagnate for the rest of the year.
There was further bad news on Thursday when the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) issued official data showing that consumer confidence declined sharply in April.
According to Seco, Swiss households rate the chances of an economic recovery in the next 12 months significantly lower than at the start of the year.
Economics Minister Joseph Deiss has drawn up a ten-point programme to be unveiled at the forum aimed at boosting the economy.
He wants to improve basic business conditions through a focused political strategy. Above all, a dismantling of bureaucratic obstacles is required.
According to Deiss, SMEs have to fill out about 300 forms just for the federal government administrators alone.
Many small and medium-sized enterprises in Switzerland also complain about the restrictive loans system run by Swiss banks. SMEs have to pay higher interest rates than larger businesses.
Pierre Triponez, director of the Swiss Association for SMEs, says it is getting harder for smaller businesses to obtain capital.
This means that for the first time in six years, small and medium-sized businesses are investing less.
swissinfo, Elvira Wiegers (translation: Tania Peitzker)
Seventy-five per cent of Swiss employees - 2.6 million people - work for an SME.
There are 300,000 SMEs in Switzerland.
They account for 99 per cent of all registered firms.
SMEs have been badly hit by the damaging effects of the strong Swiss franc on exports and the drop in consumer confidence.
According to a study by UBS bank, they are facing a slower recovery than their larger counterparts.
Around 1,000 members of SMEs will be discussing ways of improving their plight at the Swiss Economic Forum.
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