The government has charged the economics ministry with initiating dialogue with the United States aimed at concluding a bilateral free-trade agreement.This content was published on June 10, 2005 - 15:42
Economics Minister Joseph Deiss will travel to Washington next month for exploratory discussions.
Addressing the media on Friday, Deiss said the cabinet wanted closer economic ties with the US – Switzerland’s second biggest export market.
Last month Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey signalled a change of focus for Swiss foreign policy, saying more attention would be paid to the US and other important non-EU partners.
The cabinet announcement comes several weeks after the government said it was examining whether to start formal moves towards a free-trade accord with the US following requests from parliament.
Deiss said that if an agreement on free trade was concluded it would give greater impetus to bilateral relations and enable Swiss business to consolidate its market share in the US.
But he stressed that the talks he would have in July were exploratory, and it would be the end of the year before it was clear if such an agreement was likely to be reached.
The economics minister will hold discussions with US Trade Representative Rob Portman. Portman, who is of Swiss descent, was appointed to the post recently by President Bush.
The US ambassador to Switzerland, Pamela Willeford, has said that a bilateral accord would be beneficial for both countries.
Swiss businessmen have also argued in favour of a free-trade agreement, claiming it would bring benefits including the elimination of heavy customs duties, and allow Switzerland preferential access to US markets.
Deiss said that with ten per cent of Swiss exports going to the US, it was the second most important export market for Switzerland and the most important target country for Swiss investors.
Swiss investments in the US currently amount to SFr80 billion ($63.5 billion), Deiss added.
swissinfo with agencies
In 2003, Swiss exports to the US totalled SFr14.9 billion.
The US market accounts for 10% of all Swiss exports.
In 2003, imports of US goods and services totalled SFr6.6 billion.
After Germany, the US is the second biggest importer of Swiss goods and services.
Switzerland is the 18th biggest US export market.
At present economic and trade ties between the US and Switzerland are governed by a number of separate agreements.
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