Switzerland's economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has opened the largest Swiss promotional fair ever to take place in the Arab world. Couchepin's visit is intended to affirm the importance of trade relations with the United Arab Emirates.
"Swiss Horizons - Swiss Presence in the Gulf" opened in Dubai on Tuesday to the sound of alphorns and bell ringing. The three-day event is primarily concerned with promoting Swiss business in the region, but includes a host of cultural events to give visitors a flavour of Swiss life.
Couchepin was accompanied at the opening ceremony by the UAE finance and industry minister, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktou, who is also deputy ruler of Dubai.
"I feel it was important that a Swiss minister came here to show the UAE how important it is commercially for Switzerland," Couchepin told swissinfo.
"The aim of this exhibition is to show some aspects of Switzerland and show UAE citizens what they can do in Switzerland. It's a good mix of serious things for business, political meetings, and also friendly events."
Couchepin's words were echoed by Andre Bisang, chairman of the Swiss Business Council in Dubai, which organised the event.
"Swiss Horizons is about giving Switzerland an image of dynamism. It reflects not only our well-known products but also presents new technologies, and that helps the basic business relationship between the UAE and Switzerland."
The main Swiss business sectors represented at the event are banking, watches, healthcare and IT, and business leaders are working hard to make new contacts with prospective partners.
The exhibition and conference are being held at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and thousands of visitors are expected to attend. An exhibition of Swiss culture is taking place simultaneously at the Deira City Shopping Centre.
Switzerland's ambassador to the UAE, Francois Barras, told swissinfo that, given the UAE's importance as a trading partner, the event may be one of many. Swiss exports to the UAE are worth more SFr500 million a year.
"We are discussing a health fair with the Swiss Business Council in Abu Dhabi for the spring of next year. I would like to see a specialised delegation coming from the health and education sectors and perhaps from the IT sector as well.
by Tom O'Brien