Economics Minister Joseph Deiss has officially opened the new Swiss Business Hub in Singapore.
The hub is designed to offer assistance to Swiss small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to establish a presence in southeast Asia.
Speaking at the end of the first leg of a five-day tour of Singapore and Indonesia on Friday, Deiss said the new hub was the "ideal strategy" for assisting Swiss SMEs looking for a foothold in the region.
The aim is to ease access for SMEs to the markets of the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
These are Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Singapore was the obvious choice for the centre, since most Swiss firms have their regional headquarters in the city-state.
"There are more Swiss companies in Singapore than any other country in Asia," Deiss told swissinfo ahead of his trip.
"Singapore is also our most important trading partner in this part of the world. Since 2003, we’ve had a free-trade agreement with the country," Deiss said.
He said Switzerland had found hubs to be a good platform for SMEs, since opening its first one in Austria in 2001.
"They are a door opener for companies wanting to enter new markets but without necessarily having the means to go it alone," Deiss added.
He described the hubs as a central pillar of Switzerland’s export promotion policy. The number of contacts created through the business centres has more than doubled since 2001.
The economics minister said he also wanted to convince Asian businesses to set up shop in Switzerland.
"We are well positioned for companies to locate their headquarters because of the large number of double-taxation agreements [signed with other countries]," Deiss said.
He cited Switzerland’s position in the middle of Europe, excellent transport and communications networks and high quality of life as other advantages.
"It’s certainly not a punishment for a firm’s staff to be relocated here," he said.
From Singapore, Deiss will travel to the Indonesian province of Aceh to get an impression of reconstruction efforts in the tsunami-hit region.
"In our opinion, we’re entering a phase where it’s important to ensure that the economy recovers."
During his visit, he will launch two economic development projects, the "Aceh Business Support Programme" and "Access to Finance for SMEs in Indonesia", to provide SMEs with easier access to credit.
Besides aid, the goal is to strengthen Switzerland’s economic ties with Indonesia, the country with the world’s fourth largest population.
"It’s a good idea to start building a strong relationship [with Indonesia] as soon as possible," said Deiss.
swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub
Economics Minister Joseph Deiss has opened a new Swiss Business Hub during an official visit to Singapore.
The hub is designed to help Swiss SMEs interested in doing business in the region.
Deiss will also launch two projects in Indonesia aimed at helping Indonesian SMEs to access bank credits.
Deiss is on a five-day trip to Singapore and Indonesia, ending on April 11.
Singapore is Switzerland's most important trading partner in southeast Asia.
In 2003, 2% of the total of Swiss investments (SFr8.64 billion) went to the city state.
Around 250 Swiss companies are active in Singapore.
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