Trade accords strengthen Swiss-Canadian ties

The Swiss invest more in Canada than do Germany or Japan, notes Baumann Keystone

Two new trade accords between Switzerland and Canada are a key part of Swiss foreign policy, the Swiss ambassador in Ottawa, Werner Baumann tells

This content was published on July 15, 2009

The accords cover free trade within the framework of the European Free Trade Area (Efta), of which Switzerland is a member, and a bilateral agreement on agriculture.

Baumann, who has been in his post for three years, also outlines the role of the Swiss community in Canada and its contribution to promoting the image of Switzerland. He says this image has not been tarnished by the tax case against Swiss bank UBS in the United States. A free trade agreement between Canada and Efta as well as a bilateral accord between Ottawa and Bern on agriculture came into force on July 1. What are the implications of these for Switzerland?

Werner Baumann: It is very important for Switzerland to have free trade accords with as many countries as possible. Efta began this policy a long time ago and has notched up many successes.

In this particular case, it's the first free trade agreement in North America and that gives us the possibility to launch our industrial products in the markets of this great continent.

For Canada, it's a first step in the direction of the European market, as the country is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union. But it is still early days so the Canadians have everything to gain from the Efta accord. And what is the position when it comes to Swiss agriculture?

W.B.: The bilateral accord gives some privileged access rights to Canada but should not harm Swiss products. Products imported from Canada do not compete with Swiss products.

It is clear that both in Switzerland and in Canada agriculture is a rather protected sector and these new accords do not open the borders for trade in agricultural products. Can these accords have an impact on the economic crisis?

W.B.: Certainly, because every free trade agreement is the confirmation of a policy of openness and the refusal of protectionism. If you look at it in that light, it is very important for Switzerland to conclude free trade accords, particularly at a time of crisis. This policy opens new markets for our products. What is the importance of the Swiss community living in Canda?

W.B.: The Swiss are the fifth-largest direct investors in Canada. That says a lot about our influence in the country. Big companies, multinationals and even small and medium-sized enterprises represent our country in the industrial sector. The Swiss invest more in Canada than Germany or Japan do!

Having said that, the Swiss community is rather discreet. The Swiss living in Canada integrated rapidly and they only rarely make their presence felt as a community. There are, of course, some cultural events such as the yodel festival which took place last month in Banff in the Rocky Mountains. But there is no Swiss lobby that is active on the Canadian political scene.

Nevertheless, it has to be said that the Swiss community in Canada plays an important role. There are the three branches of the Swiss-Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Then there are dozens of Swiss clubs, which often include Swiss who have also acquired Canadian citizenship and who maintain strong ties with their native Switzerland. These people are excellent ambassadors for our country, even if they also have Canadian passports. What about the image of Switzerland after the tax case against UBS in the US?

W.B.: In Canada, we are not in the US. You should not put these two countries, although neighbours, on the same level. The UBS problem is a "UBS-United States" problem and this crisis hasn't had the same repercussions in Canada. Political relations between Switzerland and Canada are excellent.

Justin Veuthey in Montreal, (translated from French by Robert Brookes)

Switzerland-Canada in figures

Switzerland is the fifth-largest direct investor in Canada (after the US, Britain, France and the Netherlands).

Main Swiss exports:

Pharmaceutical products: SFr1.4 billion ($1.29 billion)
Chemicals: SFr594 million
Machines: SFr230 million
Precision instruments: SFr192 million

(Source: Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs)

In 2008, the Swiss sold twice as many goods and services to Canadians as the other way around.

Canadian exports to Switzerland: SFr1.13 billion
Swiss exports to Canada: SFr2.42 billion

According to Swiss consular services, there are about 38,000 Swiss citizens living in Canada. More than 70% are dual nationals.

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