First visit in 50 years to strengthen ties
South Korean president Park Geun-Hye was welcomed with military honours in the Swiss capital on Monday. It is the first visit by a South Korean head of state to Switzerland since the countries opened diplomatic relations in 1963.
Innovation and tradition link the two countries, said Swiss President Didier Burkhalter in his welcome speech, and both countries have dynamic and competitive economies.
President Park stressed that the number of Nobel prizes won by Switzerland is evidence of the country’s creativity. In particular, she praised research, science, pharmaceuticals, tourism, and Switzerland’s dual system of education, which includes both academic and apprenticeship programmes.
Last year, Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann paid a high-level visit to Seoul in an effort to bolster bilateral education accords and a 2006 trade accord between South Korea and the European Free Trade Association, of which Switzerland is a member.
Bilateral trade ties between the countries have increased over the past decade. Switzerland more than doubled its exports to South Korea, from CHF1.1 billion ($1.2 billion) in the year 2000 to CHF2.4 billion in 2012, according to the latest statistics from the economics ministry.
And imports from South Korea stood at CHF819 million in 2012, up from CHF533 million at the turn of the millennium.
However, experts say South Korea’s economy has been plagued by a structural crisis, with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) showing a lack of innovation.
Stefan Barny from the national export agency Switzerland Global Enterprise (formerly known as OSEC) says the high-profile Asian delegation is keen to learn from Switzerland’s innovation strategy. South Korea’s businesses, including multinationals Samsung, LG and Kia, need modernisation, he told Swiss public radio, SRF.
A special programme has been supporting 30 Swiss science and research projects in South Korea since 2008, according to the foreign ministry.
Park will visit the Bern High School for Vocational Training in Trade and Industry before traveling to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the mountain resort of Davos, which begins on Wednesday.
President Park thanked Switzerland for its role in keeping peace at the border between South and North Korea. Since 1953, Switzerland has participated in the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission for Korea, which is active on the demarcation line.
Swiss ministers regularly pay visits to the Swiss observers at the Panmunjom border point, notably Schneider-Ammann last year, Burkhalter in 2012, Defence Minister Ueli Maurer in 2011 and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey in 2003.
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