Switzerland and Japan have signed an agreement aimed at strengthening future scientific and technological ties.This content was published on July 11, 2007 - 08:11
Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin rubber-stamped the deal on an official visit to Japan, during which the two sides also pledged their continued support for a bilateral trade accord.
The agreement was signed on Tuesday in Tokyo by Couchepin and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso.
An interior ministry statement said the move was in line with the Swiss policy of expanding relations with suitable non-European countries for research purposes. Similar accords have already been reached with India and China.
Priorities and themes for the Japanese cooperation agreement will be decided at a later date. However, the statement noted that the two countries had already worked together in various fields, ranging from life sciences to information technologies.
Couchepin's spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier described the accord as a "door-opener", adding that the deal was hailed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whom Couchepin also met on Tuesday.
Crevoisier said Abe had indicated that he wished for more cooperation between the two countries and was pleased about the moves towards a free trade deal.
Swiss and Japanese diplomats are currently meeting in Savognin, a mountain resort in eastern Switzerland, to discuss a possible accord.
The two countries agreed to start talks in January for what would be Japan's first trade agreement with a European nation.
Japan is seeking to export more electronic goods to Switzerland, while Swiss pharmaceutical and watch companies have been looking to boost shipments to Japan.
Couchepin also signalled his support, saying the two countries had much in common as "two islands who are open to the outside", according to Crevoisier.
The Swiss minister has invited Abe to Switzerland. If he accepts, it would be the first visit by a Japanese premier to the country.
Couchepin will stay in Japan until the end of the week and will also visit Kyoto and Hiroshima. Next week he will move on to Mongolia.
swissinfo with agencies
Japan is Switzerland's third-most important trade partner, after the European Union and the United States.
Swiss exports to Japan in 2006 were valued at SFr6.7billion ($5.5 billion) and imports from Japan at around SFr3.1 billion.
As of the end of 2005, Swiss direct investment in Japan was valued at SFr7.7 billion, that of Japanese direct investment in Switzerland at SFr1.1 billion.
Bilateral links between Switzerland and Japan have existed since 1864 with the signing of a "Treaty of Amity and Trade".
During the Second World War, around 20 countries, among them the leading powers of the Allied Nations, entrusted Switzerland with the diplomatic representation of their interests in Japan, and Switzerland represented Japan's interests towards the Allied Nations.
Switzerland is the fifth-largest foreign direct investor in Japan.
Bilateral agreements cover air traffic, visas, double taxation and good laboratory practice. A scientific and technological cooperation deal was signed on Tuesday.
A Swiss Business Hub was opened in Tokyo in November 2001.