Swiss watchmakers are looking to cash in on China's expanding market for timepieces.
During a recent fact-finding mission to Hong Kong and Shanghai, François Habersaat, the president of the Swiss Federation of Watchmakers, said the Chinese market was ripe for investment.
"China's joining the World Trade Organization [WTO] has had a considerable influence on our relationship [with the country]," says Habersaat.
His comments come a week after a delegation of Swiss business leaders returned from a trip to China, where they agreed to boost economic ties between the two countries.
Before Beijing's accession to the WTO last year, Habersaat says watches destined for the Chinese market were hit with prohibitive import taxes of between 80 and 100 per cent.
Strict quotas were also in operation, severely limiting the number of Swiss-made watches sold inside China.
But the system of fixed quotas is due to be abolished next year, while import duties - currently set at a maximum rate of 16.6 per cent - will be reduced to 11 per cent in 2004.
However, according to Habersaat, the liberalisation of the domestic Chinese market has already led to an increase in export trade with China.
Latest statistics suggest the value of Switzerland's watch exports to China rose more than 100 per cent in the first four months of 2002 to reach a total of SFr22 million.
The number of Swiss watches destined for the Chinese market more than quadrupled to 56,000 over the same period.
Habersaat says the boost in exports to China is particularly welcome amid a background of a continued decline in sales to both the United States and Japan.
swissinfo with agencies