The Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, has begun a four-day visit to Thailand to strengthen political and business ties with the Southeast Asian country.
During his trip, Deiss plans to hold talks with the Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, as well as visit Swiss firms.
Deiss, who is heading a delegation of government and business figures, says he intends to improve the already healthy economic relationship between the two countries.
“Trade with Thailand is worth 1.6 billion francs, but there are possibilities for improvement,” Deiss told swissinfo.
“Thailand is not the main place in Asia where Swiss businesses are investing, but it is still important. There are also some interesting Swiss companies working in Thailand,” he added.
Rise in exports
According to the Swiss-Thai Chamber of Commerce, Swiss exports to Thailand have increased threefold over the past decade, while Thai imports to Switzerland have almost doubled.
Last year Swiss exports to Thailand totalled more than SFr777 million ($608 million) and accounted for 15 per cent of exports to Asia.
Thai imports to Switzerland grew by 1.1 per cent to SFr608 million in 2003.
Ulrich Forster, president of the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, says Swiss businesses view Thailand as one of the most attractive Asian countries for investment.
“Growth in Thailand last year was strong at around six to seven per cent, and stronger growth is expected this year,” said Forster, who is accompanying Deiss.
“Consequently, Switzerland would like to participate in that growth, with an increase in imports and exports,” Forster told swissinfo.
Switzerland’s main exports to Thailand are machinery and pharmaceuticals; major imports include watch parts, machinery, electronics and clothing.
Points for discussion
Ahead of the visit, Deiss said he would be raising a number of issues with Thai officials.
“We will explore Thailand’s interest in closer relations with European Free Trade Association (Efta) countries and we plan to enter into negotiations on free-trade agreements in the not too distant future,” said Deiss.
Another point of discussion will be intellectual property rights and how to curb counterfeiting. Deiss said he welcomed the Thai government’s efforts in cracking down on fake goods.
The Swiss economics minister said he also planned to discuss the problems some Swiss pharmaceutical companies were having trouble with drug approval procedures in Thailand.
He is also scheduled to meet the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a ten-nation economic and political grouping, which Switzerland supports.
Deiss, who holds Switzerland’s rotating presidency, is expected to meet King Bhumibol Adulyadej during his trip. The king has longstanding ties with Switzerland, having lived there for 17 years and having studied at Lausanne University.
Deiss’s visit to Thailand is the second by a Swiss president. The first was by Alfred Koller in 1997.
Other activities on his schedule include opening a Swiss art exhibition and visiting the Thai production facilities of the Swiss watchmaker, Ronda.
swissinfo, Joanne Shields
Thailand is one of Switzerland's top seven trading partners in Asia.
Switzerland is among Thailand’s top 20 trading partners.
Switzerland is also the tenth-biggest investor in Thailand, with investments totalling SFr167 million in 2002.
Thailand also hosts the biggest Swiss expatriate community in the region.
Deiss last visited Thailand in 2000.
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