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Swiss trade visit to Argentina overshadowed by general strike

A Swiss trade delegation, headed by the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has arrived in Argentina as the country prepares for a general strike. Workers are protesting at austerity measures demanded by International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Couchepin's visit comes as workers across Argentina are about to strike in protest at austerity measures imposed as a condition of an IMF bail-out package. The country is labouring under massive debts of $150 billion (SFr270 billion).

Workers are expected to down tools on Thursday, bringing to country to a virtual standstill until the strike ends on Friday night.

Despite Argentina's severe economic problems, Swiss political and business leaders are anxious to strengthen trade ties. They see the country as a key potential market for Swiss products, with its population of 37 million people, and per capita income of over $8,000 a year.

In his talks with the Argentinian president, Fernando de la Rùa, Couchepin is expected for a liberalisation of trade ties.

Couchepin's visit is part of a Latin American tour, which has already taken him to Chile, where he held talks on a free trade agreement.

His next stop is Mexico, where he is due to sign a free trade deal on behalf of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The accord will give EFTA members the same trade access to Mexico as that enjoyed by the European Union and the United States.

EFTA is made up of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

swissinfo with agencies

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