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China dismisses Swiss reports of stalled free trade talks

The free trade deal was signed in Beijing in 2013 but human rights activists have called for an overhaul. Keystone/How Hwee Young

China's commerce ministry has denied talks with Switzerland to update a free trade agreement between both countries are "frozen".

This content was published on May 31, 2022 - 17:34
Reuters/swissinfo.ch/ug

China's human rights record, in particular the way it treats the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority in its northwest region of Xinjiang, has strained its relationship with Western countries.

China has denied accusations of rights abuses.

Swiss newspapers reported on Sunday that efforts by Switzerland to update its free trade agreement with China have stalled as Bern takes a more critical view of Beijing's human rights record.

"The situation of talks being frozen does not exist. Both sides are maintaining close communication on this," a Chinese commerce ministry spokesperson said, according to a statement on the ministry's website published on Tuesday.

The spokesperson described the FTA as "high-level, content-rich and mutually beneficial" and pointed out that China is Switzerland's third-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade last year up 97% compared to a year earlier, amounting to $44 billion (CHF42.1 billion).

Free trade deal

A bilateral free trade agreementExternal link was signed in 2013 and took effect at the beginning of 2014.

China and Switzerland said in 2017 they would launch a joint study to explore upgrading the current FTA. Signed in 2013, it was Beijing's first such agreement with an economy in continental Europe.

A recently passed Swiss parliamentary initiative denounced the forced labour of Uyghurs as "a real problem".

If Swiss media reports about the stalled talks are true, Switzerland would not be the first country to rethink its economic links with China because of human rights concerns.

The European Union last year halted ratification of an investment pact with China because Beijing had sanctioned EU politicians in response to Western sanctions against Chinese officials accused of the mass detention of Muslim Uyghurs.

In 2020 and 2021, the United States sanctioned Chinese officials on concerns over rights abuses in Xinjiang and imposed bans on goods produced in Xinjiang over concerns of forced labour.

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