BERN, SWITZERLAND – “Switzerland’s free trade agreement negotiations with China are in a rather early stage but they are well underway” following the third round of talks between the two countries, Swiss Ambassador and Delegate for Trade Agreements Christian Etter has told GenevaLunch.
Switzerland, which has a trade surplus with China despite the former’s small size, has taken a European lead in working out a free trade agreement (FTA) with Asia’s giant economy since the two signed a Memorandum of Understanding 28 January 2011, says Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey.
“It shows we’re not afraid,” she said, smiling, at a press conference in Geneva 28 November. She was treating it lightly, but Switzerland is keen to keep the negotiations moving, particularly in the wake of a slowdown in negotiations between China and Iceland and China and Norway.
Both sides have said they would like the talks to move swiftly.
EU’s Almunia says stable trade framework is the way forward
The comments come as the European Union’s anti-trust boss called for less bickering and a better trade framework between the EU and China, at the EU-China Forum held in Brussels this week, organized by the Friends of Europe. Joaquın Almunia is quoted by Dow-Jones 29 November as saying that “everything linked with intellectual property rights, innovation, know-how, is not well-solved in our relations, we are discussing with our Chinese partners but I don’t find we have a stable framework to benefit from both sides of our common understanding.” He added that “playing this same kind of game means these pressures, these intensities will increase.”
Swiss-China trade picks up while Swiss-EU trade slows
Switzerland is China’s ninth largest trading partner in Europe, with the smaller country having a trade surplus for 2011 of CHF2.13 billion by the end of October. China is Switzerland’s largest trading partner in Asia. During the first 10 months of the year Switzerland’s exports to China grew by 26.2 percent, while imports from China slipped by 3.3 percent.
China is Europe’s largest trading partner and its trade surplus with Europe is €160-€180 billion in 2011, according to the Wall St Journal.
Trade has been stagnant between the EU and Switzerland during the first 10 months of the year, with exports to the EU down 0.5 percent and imports up 3.1 percent.
Iceland was the first European country to start FTA negotiations with China but its talks have cooled down, with Iceland’s application to join the European Union. Negotiations began formally in July 2010; EU membership would exclude implementing a separate FTA with China.
And talks with Norway have slowed down since China expressed its displeasure over the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Third round of negotiations covered hefty list of topics
The latest round of talks in the free trade negotiations between Switzerland and China took place in Montreux 8-10 November. The talks were launched in Davos in January, with talks held once in Bern and once in Beijing.
The two teams in Montreux held expert level discussions and exchanged information on respective regulatory systems and FTA-practices covering several areas: trade in goods, trade in services, rules of origin, customs procedures and trade facilitation, technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS), trade remedies, intellectual property rights, competition and dispute settlement.
The heads of of the two delegations and experts discussed investment promotion, cooperation on trade and sustainable development, and cooperation on government procurement, and agreed on follow-up work in all areas.
The fourth round of negotiations are expected to take place in China in early 2012.