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trans-atlantic ties need fresh boost

Boston has a lot in common with Basel, but also plenty to discuss

(swissinfo.ch)

Four years after a sister-state agreement between canton Basel-City and Massachusetts was signed, little has come of the accord so far.

The original agreement – the first of its kind signed by a Swiss canton - called for the two states to deepen their co-operation and to develop joint projects and programmes in a variety of fields.

The domains covered included art and culture, science and education, business and trade, government and administration. The document signed in 2002 also promoted the "active exchange of ideas, knowledge and people."

On the face of it, Massachusetts and Basel have plenty in common. They both have a large number of high-tech companies, especially in life sciences.

One firm that has straddled the Atlantic with a strong presence in both states is Basel-based Novartis. The attraction of the Boston area was enough to convince the company to set up its research headquarters in Cambridge in 2002.

But Novartis' presence in

Massachusetts has little to do with political agreements, and much more to do with business.

Generally speaking, most exchanges boil down to individual initiatives.

Few results

So far, there has been little in the way of concrete results for the agreement, beyond a few student exchanges between high schools and universities despite the involvement of Basel's Friends of Massachusetts association, which represents the accord in Switzerland.

"For practical reasons, promotion has been limited to science and education," said the association's president, Dieter Scholer.

"What we are trying to do though is identify projects that will intensify exchanges."

According to Scholer, there has been plenty of political support in Basel for the implementation of the agreement, but there has been a distinct lack of a partner association in Massachusetts.

"We rely on individuals to make our contacts," he admits, adding that the agreement is probably more important to Basel than it is to the American state.

There is in fact a suspicion by some people in Basel that the current Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, has little interest in the accord signed by his predecessor. Such claims are denied though by

Christa Bleyleben, head of the state's office of international trade and investment.

Sitting in her small office in the heart of Boston, the Viennese-born director says that the governor has focused on domestic issues – and a possible race for the American presidency - during his mandate, and chosen not to take part in trade missions abroad for example.

Economic ties first

Bleyleben believes though that politics only play a minor role in Massachusetts' international relations.

"As a state, we traditionally have an international outlook," she told swissinfo. "We are the ninth-biggest

exporter in the United States."

"Sister-state agreements are important to us because they allow us to foster strong economic relationships and I would like to look at ways of reinforcing our accord with Basel," she added.

Besides stronger business ties, Bleyleben sees science and research as two areas that could be developed in the future.

Basel will be hoping these words ring true in the future.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

On June 20, 2002, the president of the government of canton Basel-City, Carlo Conti, and the then-governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift, signed a Sister-State Agreement.

Basel-City was the first Swiss canton to enter into an important political relationship of this nature with a leading US region.

Both sides undertook to deepen their co-operation, to develop joint projects and to promote active exchanges.

Massachusetts also has sister state agreements with regions in Japan, China, Taiwan, Spain and South Africa.

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Key facts

Massachusetts exported goods and services worth $269 million in 2005 to Switzerland, making it the state's 19th trading partner.
The United States is Switzerland's second-biggest trade partner behind Germany, accounting for over ten per cent of exports.

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