The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has met the new Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, at the start of a five-day Latin American visit aimed at boosting trade ties.This content was published on November 20, 2000 - 22:24
Couchepin, who is accompanied by a high-powered business delegation, hopes to be able to conclude an agreement on free trade and investment protection in Chile.
From Chile, Couchepin will travel to Argentina on Wednesday to sign an accord on double taxation. His agenda includes a meeting with the Argentinian president, Fernando de la Rùa, who like Lagos has been in office for less than a year.
Switzerland is a member of the small European Free Trade Association, which also includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Argentina is a full member of Latin America's single market, Mercosur, while Chile is an associate member.
The 20-member Swiss business delegation includes the president of the main employer's organisation, as well as representatives of the food and pharmaceuticals industry, banks, and the engineering sector.
The economics ministry said Chile and Argentina were among Switzerland's most solid and promising trading partners in South America, despite difficulties in the wake of economic crises in Asia, Russia and Brazil.
Last year, Switzerland exported goods worth just over SFr600 million ($340 million) to Chile and Argentina. Imports in the same year amounted nearly SFr130 million ($70 million).
Three quarters of the exports come from the engineering industry, pharmaceuticals and chemical products. Imports from Chile and Argentina mainly consist of agricultural products.
Bilateral trade ties have suffered due to serious economic and social problems in Argentina and Chile in the past two years. But both countries have been carrying out far-reaching reforms.
Brazil remains top of the list of Switzerland's trading partners in Latin America.
swissinfo with agencies
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