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Swiss show strong interest in US election

Political and business leaders in Switzerland are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the US presidential elections. The new administration's policies could affect Swiss competitiveness in US markets, and America's commitment to peacekeeping.

Swiss companies are firmly behind the Republican presidential challenger, George W Bush. Financial analysts say a Bush victory would strengthen the dollar, making Swiss exports more competitive.

For its part, the Swiss government is hoping that the new administration will continue to maintain its involvement in peacekeeping operations abroad, especially in the Balkans.

Neither Bush nor the Democratic candidate, vice-president Al Gore, has expressed any views on the continuing strength of the dollar, but the financial markets believe Bush would be less likely to support further intervention to prop up the euro.

Business is also backing Bush because he has pledged to use an expected budget surplus to cut taxes which, it's believed, would strengthen the stock market, encouraging overseas investment, which would also boost the dollar.

Swiss companies are concerned that a victory for Gore would hinder free trade. Zurich cantonal bank analyst, Hans Jürg Schmidt, told swissinfo that "Gore tends to feel more pressure by interest groups favouring protection, while Bush is rather determined to support free trade."

Although Swiss business has forked out substantial sums to support both candidates' campaigns, the lion's share of the money has gone to the Bush camp.

Switzerland's two biggest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have each contributed $1 million (SFr1.76 million), with 70 per cent going to the Republicans.

The Basel-based healthcare giant, Novartis, has also bankrolled the Bush campaign. Spokeswoman, Rachel King, told swissinfo that "what you get in return is more access and more opportunities to tell your story".

She added: "We do give more money to the Republicans because they are more likely to support policies that help research and development in the pharmaceutical industry."

Novartis' backing of Bush was in part prompted by Gore's suggestion that the pharmaceuticals industry might need to be more tightly regulated.

"Gore said that these sectors might need some stronger regulation on what to sell, to whom and at what price," said Schmidt. "For Bush this is not a big issue, he is rather more on the deregulation side.

Swiss interest in the election is strong because Swiss-owned companies have a major stake in the US economy. They employ more than 350,000 people in the US, and have a financial stake in excess of $210 billion.

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