Swiss minister pledges to boost trade ties with Algeria

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss said that Switzerland was very keen to boost relations with Algeria, and that a high-level economic delegation would soon visit the country to hammer out the details for increased cooperation.

This content was published on October 7, 1999 minutes

Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss (left), wrapping up a one-day visit to Algeria, told President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (right)that Switzerland was very keen to boost relations with Algeria, and that a high-level economic delegation would soon visit the country to hammer out the details for increased cooperation.

The pledge came at the end of a visit that was meant to signal a new beginning for Swiss-Algerian relations, as Deiss was the first cabinet minister to pay an official visit to the north African country in more than 30 years.

After four hours of talks with Bouteflika, Deiss underlined the importance of Swiss-Algerian trade ties.

"We are a credible and important trading partner for Algeria -- not least because Switzerland does not have a colonial past that might cloud bilateral relations," he said Wednesday.

Deiss also praised Bouteflika’s efforts to bring lasting peace and prosperity to a country still reeling from the effects of years of violent conflict.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Algeria during seven years of clashes between the state and terrorist groups. The violence erupted early in 1992, when the authorities cancelled a general election in which Muslim militants of the Islamic Salvation Front had taken a commanding lead.

President Bouteflika's peace plan was approved in a referendum by more than 98 percent of voters last month.

The bloody conflict has aggravated an already difficult economic situation, which now sees an unemployment rate of 30 percent and difficult living conditions for average Algerians.

Deiss said he hoped that Algeria’s increasing political and social stability would boost industrial development and help create jobs.

He said Switzerland could contribute to Algeria's development by sharing its experience of how to create a business friendly environment, particularly for small and medium sized businesses.

A group of Swiss economics ministry representatives is to travel to Algeria in the coming weeks to fine tune the details of economic cooperation, Deiss said. He added that about 30 Swiss companies and businessmen had expressed interest in investing in Algeria.

Representatives of Switzerland’s national airline Swissair, who travelled with Deiss, also met government officials to discuss if and when Swissair will resume flights to the country. Swissair stopped its service to Algeria in 1994.

A Swissair spokesman said the airline was now assessing the Algerian market.

Switzerland’s ambassador to Algiers, André von Graffenried, says the Algerian government is keen to end international isolation and attract foreign investment.

The government had already implemented business friendly regulations in order to help create jobs, von Graffenried added.

Trade relations with Algeria are rather modest compared to Switzerland’s European and transatlantic trade ties.

Imports from Algeria totalled SFr198 million ($133 million) in 1998, most of which was gas, fuel and oil. Swiss exports to Algeria amounted to just over SFr100 million ($67 million).

From staff and wire reports.

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