Deiss seeks to drum up trade with new Europe
Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss is beginning a four-day visit to Poland and Lithuania for talks aimed at improving trade and bilateral ties.
One topic of discussion is certain to be Switzerland's contribution to the Cohesion Fund for the ten new European Union states.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey signed a memorandum in Brussels on Monday, pledging SFr1 billion ($760 million) to the fund over five years.
Poland and Lithuania are among the ten newest members of the Union, officially joining on May 1, 2004. As the largest of the new entrants, Poland stands to receive almost half the funding (SFr489 million).
Accompanying Deiss on his four-day visit from Wednesday until Saturday are representatives of Switzerland's second largest bank Credit Suisse, pharmaceuticals giant Novartis and the electricity concern Atel.
With 38.6 million inhabitants and an economy increasingly driven by the service sector, Poland is an economic heavyweight in the making. It's also a growing market.
From Poland the delegation will move on to the Baltic republic of Lithuania. Although much smaller than its neighbour, Lithuania has one of the fastest growing economies in central and eastern Europe (nine per cent in 2003 and seven per cent in 2004).
Switzerland is currently its biggest export market (11.7 per cent), ahead of Russia and Germany.
"All our accords with the European Union apply to these two countries too, which should allow us to strengthen economic relations," said Gregor Kündig, a spokesman for the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse.
"These are important markets for us," he told swissinfo. "There are no specific problems to address, this mission is more about getting to know one another."
Officially relations between Warsaw and Bern are both "very important for Switzerland" and "very close". In recent years Deiss and his cabinet colleagues have met their Polish opposite numbers on several occasions.
"Poland is a new member of the European Union. It is important for us to find out how its economy is developing and whether it is benefiting from EU membership," said Simone Hug, a spokeswoman for Deiss.
Switzerland's contribution to the EU Cohesion Fund will feature in discussions in both Warsaw and Vilnius.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed between Switzerland and Brussels on Monday sets out how Bern will finance various projects over a five-year period.
It allows for Switzerland to negotiate programmes and projects with each of the ten new member states.
"During this trip we will have initial talks with our partners about possible priorities," said Hugo Bruggmann, who is responsible for this dossier within the economics ministry.
swissinfo, Pierre-François Besson
In 2004 Swiss exports to Poland totalled SFr1.34 billion (+19%). Exports were made up mainly of pharmaceutical products, machines and chemical products.
Exports to Lithuania totalled SFr95 million (+1.2%). These were mainly vehicles/planes, machines and chemical products.
Poland is the number one destination for direct Swiss investments in central and eastern Europe (SFr1.96 billion in 2003).
Switzerland supports Poland through EcoFund (financial aid for environmental protection) and the Central and eastern Europe growth fund.
It also receives from Switzerland bilateral aid of SFr20 million and multilateral aid of SFr3 million through the International Decommissioning Support Fund.
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