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Switzerland calls for closer Middle East trade ties

David Syz is looking to strengthen trade ties in the Middle East Keystone

The head of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) has urged Israelis and Palestinians to work harder on building closer economic ties.

This content was published on September 8, 2003 - 18:01

David Syz’s comments came amid renewed political instability within the Palestinian Authority, following the resignation of the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, over the weekend.

Returning from a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Syz said one of Seco’s main goals was to fight poverty and unemployment in the Palestinian territories.

“The most important thing for us is to reduce poverty in the Palestinian territories but this can only be achieved by boosting business,” Syz told swissinfo.

“But you can only do business properly if you remove the region’s artificial hurdles, such as security checkpoints… which exist not only between the Palestinian territories and Israel, but also within the territories themselves,” Syz said.

Road map

Syz said even though he was impressed by the willingness of both sides to do business, he believed the peace plan for the region – known as the “road map” - was in jeopardy.

The recent power struggle between Abbas and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, for control of the Palestinian security forces has been seen as dealing another blow to the Washington-backed plan.

“I think it will be very difficult for Arafat and Sharon to find a solution,” Syz said. “I was struck by [both sides’ intransigence] on security issues.

Violence

Syz added that the renewed violence in the Middle East was deterring the Swiss from investing in the region.

“At the moment, investment is not an issue,” he said.

“In terms of trade, the two biggest issues are exports and imports to and from the Palestinian territories. Exports from Switzerland are also a problem, as the Israelis withhold some products to check whether they could be used for military activity.”

The question of Palestinian exports formed part of Syz’s discussions with the Palestinian minister for economics and trade, Maher el Masri, and the finance minister, Salam Fayad.

“We also discussed free trade issues and cooperation on labour issues, which is one of the main problems in the region as unemployment is about 60 per cent."

swissinfo, Billi Bierling and Samantha Tonkin

Key facts

Switzerland’s exports to the Palestinian territories in 2002 amounted to SFr3.3 million, compared with SFr644 million to Israel.
Imports from the Palestinian territories – mainly agricultural goods – were worth SFr300,000 in 2002. Israeli exports to Switzerland amounted to SFr462 million.
The unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories is estimated at between 40% and 60%.
Israel’s gross domestic product shrank by 1% in 2002 and 0.9% in 2001.

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