Swiss delegation seeks more trade with Iran

Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, paid a two-day visit to Iran

Switzerland's economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has ended his visit to Tehran after heading an economic delegation to boost trade ties with Iran. The minister met his counterpart, Tahmaseb Mazaheri, as well as the recently re-elected President Khatami on Sunday.

This content was published on October 7, 2001 minutes

Couchepin told his Iranian colleagues that under the current circumstances, his two-day mission to Iran marked "the importance Switzerland attaches to bilateral economic relations between the two countries."

"Switzerland did not want Iran to isolate itself from the world," he added.

The Swiss economics minister was accompanied by representatives of the Swiss industry, who complained about Iran's disadvantageous tax system.

They also called for a change in Iran's banking system, particularly when it comes to obtaining loans from local banks to finance projects.

It was the first official visit by a Swiss government minister to Iran in ten years. During his visit Couchepin also met the commerce minister, Mohammed Shariatmadari and the industry and mining minister, Eshagh Jahangiri.

He also spent time with the governor of Iran's central bank, Mohsen Nourbakhch.

"The most important goal, among others, is to show the flag," explained Rudolf Kummer, head of the Africa and Middle East division of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

Interest in Iran's development

Kummer told swissinfo the visit would "show the Iranians that the Swiss economy exists and that the Swiss economy and the Swiss government are willing to cooperate in the economic development of Iran."

Last year Switzerland imported SFr182 million ($112 million), mainly in energy and fuel, from Iran, while exporting SFr393 million ($243 million), mainly machinery and chemical goods, to Iran.

"Last year we had Swiss exports to Iran of SFr393 million, up 15 per cent from 1999," added Kummer. "Swiss imports from Iran went up to SFr182 million, that's a growth of 66 per cent on the previous year."

Kummer explained that the increase in Iranian imports to Switzerland was mainly due to the large hike in oil prices over the past year.

Oil-related possibilities

Swiss trade with Iran in recent years has mainly focused on the machinery and chemical industries, supplying the Iranian oil and gas sector. However, with oil prices recovered from the lows of the 1990s SECO sees more opportunities for Swiss business.

"We feel that Iran has a tremendous need in the industrial field, updating old factories," explained Kummer.

"Also the country's infrastructure needs to be renewed and there's work to be done in the energy sector. There are many fields we have the impression that Swiss companies could participate in Iran's development."

Key trading partner

Iran is in fact the third most important trading partner for Switzerland within the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"There are some questions and issues to be discussed, but these are open issues and that's normal," saud Kummer.

"There are some obstacles in the Iranian legislation hindering a little bit the development of economic relations, but that's also normal and we face that problem with many non-European countries. Overall our economic relations are really good with Iran."

The Swiss economics ministry agrees that economic relations between the two countries are good and are experiencing a "dynamic development".

A bilateral accord between Iran and Switzerland on promotion and protection of investments, first signed in 1998, will come into effect on the first of November this year.

by Tom O'Brien

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