Switzerland's efforts to strengthen trade ties with the United Arab Emirates have been boosted with the launch of the Swiss Business Council in Abu Dhabi.
Addressing business leaders at the Council's inauguration, the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, described the occasion as "a great day for commercial and economic relations between Switzerland and the UAE".
Couchepin is on a two-day visit to the UAE's largest emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai - the first official trip by a Swiss minister to the country.
On Tuesday, he opened the largest ever Swiss-sponsored event in the Gulf region, "Swiss Horizons".
The Swiss Business Council's main objectives are to enhance commerce and investment, while providing a forum for discussion among Swiss companies operating in Abu Dhabi.
Knut Rupprecht, chairman of the Swiss Business Council, told swissinfo that the organisation would help Swiss companies wanting to do business in the UAE.
"We have had a Swiss Business Council in Dubai since 1996, but a lot of people in Abu Dhabi have been asking why don't we have something similar here. The Swiss business community is represented by totally different companies in Abu Dhabi than in Dubai."
The council aims to hold monthly meetings with guest speakers and also intends to organise Swiss-related exhibitions such as education and health fairs in the first half of next year.
"Swiss business people would still need to approach the commercial section of the Swiss embassy as a first step in starting a business in Abu Dhabi," said Rupprecht.
He added: "The main help the Swiss Business Council can bring is the long experience we have in the field. We have members who have been here for 25 years... They know a lot of people and know how to make things easier."
Couchepin was joined at Monday's launch by Abdullah Al Masaood, chairman of Abu Dhabi's National Consultative Council and honorary president of the Swiss Business Council in Abu Dhabi.
Couchepin told the meeting that "Prospects are good because of the policy of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. First of all it is a very tolerant atmosphere and there is also political stability, and there is the will to improve the liberal environment."
He also held talks with representatives of the Swiss business community in Abu Dhabi, where he was urged to encourage more visits by other Swiss ministers in an effort to maintain and improve business relations between the two countries.
by Tom O'Brien