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Swiss urged to do more to attract foreign investors

More foreign investment is needed in Switzerland, says chamber swissinfo.ch

The Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce has urged Switzerland to make itself more attractive to overseas companies.

This content was published on September 1, 2002 - 11:56

The chamber said the country had a lukewarm attitude towards foreign investment and was consequently losing valuable business.

In a brochure entitled "Switzerland - The Foreign Investors' Agenda", the Chamber said it had identified a number of areas that need to be addressed if Switzerland is to attract continuing investment from the United States and other countries.

"In general, the most important thing is that there is a real recognition within Switzerland that the country is in competition," said Philip Marcovici, a tax lawyer for the world's largest legal firm Baker and McKenzie, and one of the Chamber's directors.

That's not something that we always see," he told swissinfo.

Reactive

"In many areas such as taxation [and] the movement of personnel from one country to another, Switzerland tends to react to developments elsewhere rather than thoroughly reviewing its position.

"[It needs] to adopt a strategy designed to attract those people and those multinationals that will serve Switzerland's own interests," he added.

Marcovici told a news conference in Zurich that the first element of a strategy was to accept that there was an advantage to attracting multinationals to Switzerland.

"There seems to be a bit of discomfort in some quarters in Switzerland as to really whether or not there is a desire to bring in multinational companies and the foreigners that accompany them... so the first step is simply to say: Yes the door is open. We do want to attract the right kind of multinationals," he said.

"The second step is then to look at what other countries are doing to attract the kind of business that we want to attract to Switzerland," he added, citing in particular the examples of the Netherlands, Ireland and Singapore as locations which had adapted themselves to a global environment.

Abandoning Switzerland?

Marcovici noted that over the years, multinational companies which used to use Switzerland as a centre for their regional operations had made a "definite" shift to other locations.

"Recently Switzerland has managed to score some successes, particularly in the canton of Geneva, in terms of attracting multinational business, but there's no question in my mind that Switzerland has lost ground," he commented.

Marcovici said tax was at the forefront of concerns. Switzerland should adopt policies to make it an attractive place for companies to place their regional headquarters or to have a holding company for their European operations.

"Lack of strategy"

"This can go quite far in terms of increasing the attractiveness of Switzerland," he said. "The bottom line is that it is a lack of strategy that is hurting Switzerland at the moment."

The Chamber's brochure says stamp taxes in Switzerland have a "chilling effect" on certain types of business activities.

The Chamber's view is that Switzerland should at least abolish stamp taxes in respect of funds that may be established in Switzerland, whether or not they are listed on the Swiss stock exchange.

It also suggests that the authorities ease the work permit situation for foreign investors' executives.

It makes the point that with Switzerland's closer ties with the European Union, US citizens and other non-EU nationals find themselves "even more at a disadvantage".

As regards education, the Chamber comments that there is a shortage of school places at international schools in the Zurich and Lake Geneva areas.

This, it adds, has resulted in difficulties for some companies and has in certain instances hindered the transfer of expatriate families.

swissinfo, Rob Brookes

Key facts:

In 2001, Swiss trade with the US declined, mainly due to the economic slowdown.
Imports fell 18.5 per cent to SFr8.4 billion.
Exports to the US fell 10.1 per cent, reaching SFr15.7 billion.
Switzerland's trade surplus with the US reached SFr7.3 billion in 2001.
Swiss investment in the US rose 25 per cent rise over 2000 to over SFr300 billion.
Swiss companies employ 430,000 people in the US.
The largest is food concern Nestlé with 40,000.
The largest US company in Switzerland is McDonald's with 7,100 employees.

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