Switzerland has opened its first science and technology consulate in Asia, smoothing the way for firms to gain a foothold in the region.
Based in Singapore, it is the third Swiss House to offer services abroad to businesses and researchers, following similar ventures in Boston and San Francisco.
The new offices were inaugurated by the Swiss interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, on Tuesday.
He said Asia was an increasingly important region for Switzerland, and added that he intended to visit China later this year.
The choice of Singapore for the third Swiss House was straightforward according to Suzanne Hraba-Renevey, its executive director.
“Asia is important globally in terms of research and development, and Singapore serves as a regional hub,” she told swissinfo.
The Swiss House is expected to focus on three specific fields: education, research and development, and supporting Swiss businesses in their search for Asian partners.
Hraba-Renevey cites exchange programmes between the federal institutes of technology in Lausanne and Zurich and Singapore universities as examples of cooperation that are already underway.
“We have had students coming to Singapore in the past, and now, for the first time, Singapore students heading to Switzerland to study,” she added.
The Swiss House is located on the campus of the Biopolis centre, which is tipped to become Asia’s main biomedical research and development platform.
Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, officially inaugurated its tropical disease research institute there on Monday. Couchepin also opened that centre, which will focus on developing treatments for tuberculosis and dengue fever.
Hraba-Renevey says the Swiss House won’t just be focusing on biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
“It’s true that 80 per cent of the research carried out in Singapore is biomedical, but fields such as nanotechnology or material sciences cannot be forgotten either,” she told swissinfo.
The Singapore government, which is betting on technological development to maintain the island state’s growth, welcomed the Swiss initiative. It even offered a prime location on the Biopolis campus at knockdown rental rates.
The science consulate’s director is now looking for expressions of interest from Swiss companies who would like to get involved.
“We need to promote ourselves in Switzerland, to explain to companies that we can be a bridge towards business in Singapore,” she added.
“Small and medium-sized companies can come here and explore the local market from our offices.”
The annual operating budget provided by the Swiss government is set at SFr100,000 ($81,100), funding that Hraba-Renevey admits will have to be complemented by private sponsorship, a recurring theme for all the Swiss Houses.
“The pressure is there to find money to finance enough activities, but I think even with our small budget we can still provide many services such as meetings and seminars,” she said.
swissinfo, Scott Capper
The Biopolis campus of seven buildings occupies 18.5 hectares of land.
The project cost approximately S$500 million (SFr360 million) to set up.
The buildings are occupied mostly by research institutes, including the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases.
Singapore’s Swiss House is the third to be created after Boston and San Francisco.
It has 100 square metres of office space in the heart of the Biopolis biomedical campus.
The Swiss government has ensured part of the funding, but the science consulate will have to find additional finances from private sponsors.