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Swiss seek to intensify ties with India

India's economy, like the Bombay stock exchange, has been taking off

(Keystone)

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey starts an official visit of India on Monday aimed at boosting links across a range of subjects with the rising economic power.

Her trip follows Economics Minister Doris Leuthard's free trade talks in New Delhi in August. Calmy-Rey will discuss broad cooperation on issues such as environment, science and economy.

It is hoped the talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other officials will result in the signing of a joint declaration on privileged partnership, setting the foundations for closer links between the two countries.

It would mark an important step towards shifting Switzerland's relationship with India from traditional aid development programmes to joint ventures on themes of common interest.

This change of strategy recognises India's rise as one of the fastest-expanding world economies, with gross domestic product growth approaching double digits in recent years. Swiss exports rose 38 per cent to SFr1.9 billion ($1.65 billion) in 2006 and imports were up 13 per cent to SFr737 million.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has invested more than SFr1 billion in the country to help alleviate poverty since starting its Indian programme in 1961.

Christoph Graf, head of the SDC's South Asia division in the bilateral cooperation department, told swissinfo that the agency would be making the transition to a new type of cooperation programme by 2010.

"The emerging India with growing capacities is not the same India as we saw before. Therefore we are reducing our financial assistance for direct poverty alleviation and thinking towards a partnership among equals," he said.

Free Trade talks

"We see many opportunities through our past investment, experiences and the networks we have developed to open doors for other players such as scientific and environmental institutions," Graf added.

Switzerland helped cement this process by signing a Certified Emission Reduction contract on Monday, promising Swiss support for an Indian green biomass power plant in exchange for carbon credits.

Calmy-Rey will also visit the Indian Institute of Information Technology in Hyderabad, a green business centre started with Swiss micro-finance. She will also be giving a speech at a federalism conference during her trip, which lasts until November 8.

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard visited India in August to push a proposed Free Trade Agreement between India and EFTA states – Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Leuthard also signed a memorandum of understanding between Switzerland and India regarding intellectual property rights.

Free trade talks started last December and EFTA members have invited Indian representatives to a further meeting in Geneva on December 3.

In addition to these ministerial visits Charles Kleiber, the state secretary for education and research, went to India and China in May to hold talks about possible bilateral cooperation strategies for science and technology.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

India boasts a population of more than a billion people with an annual growth rate of 1.7% since 1990.
Its gross domestic product (GDP) breached $1 trillion (SFr1.15 trillion) for the first time this year, growing at more than 9% over the past two years. But in a land of stark economic and social contrasts 80% of people live on less than $2 a day.
At the end of 2006, 707 Swiss were living in India with 6,984 Indians in Switzerland.
The total Swiss government direct financial investment in India has shrunk from SFr27 million in 2005 to SFr20 million planned for this year. Most of the cuts have come in aid development.

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In brief

Swiss mercenaries fought with French and British forces during the colonisation of India in the 18th century. In 1851 the Volkart Trading Company, described as the Swiss equivalent of the British East India Company, set up in Bombay.

Switzerland was the first country to sign a Friendship and Settlement Treaty with the newly independent India in 1948.

During the Bangladesh dispute Switzerland acted as an intermediary between India and Pakistan from 1971 to 1976.

Several Swiss companies have set up business in India, including Holcim, Novartis, ABB, Nestlé and Sulzer.

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