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Monday, January 16, 2017, 11:28

Presidents looking to lift Sino-Swiss trade deal

By Fu Jing in Bern, Switzerland

FTA upgrade will set example for global players, ambassador says

Presidents looking to lift Sino-Swiss trade deal

President Xi Jinping will send a strong signal against rising global protectionism when he joins his Swiss counterpart, Doris Leuthard, to announce a decision to scale up the nations' free trade agreement, a top envoy has said.

Geng Wenbing, the Chinese ambassador to Switzerland, said increased action to facilitate two-way trade and investment will be top of Xi's agenda during his four-day visit, which started Sunday.

"During the visit, both sides will actively explore upgrading their FTA," he said, adding that the countries will also announce measures to boost cultural exchanges, tourism and financial cooperation.

On Tuesday, Xi will deliver the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. He is also scheduled to visit the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne and the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, and speak at a high-level conference at the United Nations Office in Geneva.

Geng said China and Switzerland are determined to set an example on free trade for the European Union and other global players to follow, paving the way for faster global economic growth.

The countries' FTA, which has waived most tariffs on goods, became effective in July 2014. Talks began in 2011, and the two sides sealed the deal in July 2013.

While talks with Norway are ongoing, Iceland is the only other European country that has entered into such an agreement with China.

The EU has said it wants to conclude a bilateral investment agreement with China before starting free trade talks, although some of its member states are eager to clinch such a deal with China.

Geng said more countries have shown interest in free trade talks, mainly because Switzerland has benefited from a partnership that has seen its exports grow.

Figures from the Swiss government indicate overall exports slowed in October and November, while the export volume to China maintained double-digit year-on-year growth over the same period.

Exports to China rose by 24.1 percent year-on-year in October and 11.5 percent in November.

"Such rosy results have led more countries to become interested in free trade talks, and even some have asked me for the agreement text sealed by China and Switzerland," Geng said. "I'm sure every country that enters such a trade arrangement with China will become a winner."

He said China has been restructuring its investment-led economy toward consumption and innovation, creating many import opportunities.

In December, the EU, the United States and Japan, the leading global economies, refused to fulfill a promise made 15 years ago when China joined the World Trade Organization to recognize China as an equal trading partner.

Switzerland, however, joined dozens of WTO members in recognizing China's market economy status back in 2007.

Apart from efforts to boost their trade partnership, Geng said the Chinese and Swiss leaders will also upgrade their political relationship.

Switzerland was the first Western country to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1950. In April, Johann Schneider-Ammann, the former president of the Swiss Confederation, visited China.

"Within less than a year, President Xi is returning a state visit. In addition, he is only visiting Switzerland during this tour, which indicates how much importance China has attached to the bilateral relationship," Geng added.

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