Economics Minister Joseph Deiss has held talks in Kuwait aimed at forging closer business ties between Switzerland and the oil-rich emirate.This content was published on April 3, 2006 - 19:53
For its part, the Kuwaiti government pledged to ease travel restrictions for Swiss businessmen and to open an embassy in the Swiss capital, Bern, later this year.
"I didn't know that Switzerland has so many friends in Kuwait," said Deiss after meeting the head of state, Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, Crown Prince Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah as well as Prime Minister Nasser Muhammad al-Ahmed al-Sabah in Kuwait-City on Monday.
The Kuwaiti prime minister said the planned opening of an embassy in Switzerland showed the Gulf state was willing to encourage Swiss investment.
He added that Kuwait appreciated the humanitarian role of Switzerland in 1991 following the invasion by Iraqi troops.
"Kuwait will not forget its friends," the prime minister said.
Discussion between Deiss and the finance, trade and industry ministers focused on lowering the corporate tax rate in Kuwait, which is seen as a barrier for many Swiss investors.
Also on the agenda were plans for a free trade agreement between the emirate and the European Free Trade Association (Efta), which includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Negotiations are due to begin in June and expected to wrap up next year.
Swiss trade relations with the emirate have been virtually non-existent. Last year Swiss exports to Kuwait stood at just SFr259 million ($198.6 million).
The talks in Kuwait came in the wake of a three-day visit by Deiss to Saudi Arabia where he signed an agreement on the promotion and reciprocal protection of investments.
He also took part in a ceremony for the launch of a joint business council between the local Swiss business association and the Saudi chambers of commerce and industry.
The Kingdom is Switzerland's second-biggest trading partner in the Middle East behind the United Arab Emirates.
Experts say bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia is healthy, but investors face many hurdles in a country considered to be the world's least globalised.
It only joined the World Trade Organization last year, committing it to relinquish a certain number of trade barriers and tariffs on imports.
Sectors, including banking, insurance and telecommunications are set to be opened to foreign companies.
swissinfo with agencies
Moves are underway for a free trade agreement between Efta states, including Switzerland, and the Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Saudi Arabia is the second-biggest Swiss trading partner in the Middle East, behind the United Arab Emirates.
Switzerland exports goods and services worth more than SFr1 billion ($770 million) to the kingdom, with nearly half made up of pharmaceuticals and machinery.
Business with Kuwait is marginal for Swiss companies despite the emirate's wealth. Last year, exports reached a mere SFr259 million.
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