Swiss and US move towards trade talks

Deiss (left) met US trade representative Portman several times in Davos Keystone

Switzerland and the United States have decided to set up a joint forum to boost bilateral trade ties, Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss tells swissinfo.

This content was published on January 28, 2006 - 20:18

The announcement comes ten days after the failure to agree on the terms for negotiations on a free-trade accord.

Deiss held a second meeting with the US trade representative, Rob Portman, on Saturday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum summit in the Swiss resort of Davos.

He said both sides would now define areas of common interest for a deal or bilateral agreements.

swissinfo: How much progress was made in Davos to break the deadlock?

Joseph Deiss: I had a first meeting with Rob Portman on Wednesday to take stock of the situation. We came to the conclusion that the time was not right for the US to agree to a free-trade accord, including agriculture.

Washington always insisted on negotiations on a fully-fledged deal. Switzerland's position was to say: Let's find areas of common interest where closer cooperation is possible.

We agreed on Wednesday to continue discussions during the week. As a result we now have issued a joint statement and created a forum in a bid to step up cooperation on trade, services and investment.

swissinfo: How do you envisage the task of the forum?

J.D.: The forum will bring together officials from both the US and Swiss administrations to define areas of common interest for further negotiations.

The aim is to reach deals on individual issues or possibly even bilateral accords.

swissinfo: Who is at the origin of the idea of a forum?

J.D.: The proposal comes, indirectly, from both sides. But of course, we first had to win approval from the Americans. They had to agree to something they had rejected initially.

The forum is more or less what we consider a platform for a free-trade accord. But it was not possible for the Americans to use the same terminology. Therefore we settled on a name the US administration was happy with.

swissinfo: Why did the US show so much interest in a deal with Switzerland in Davos?

J.D.: The moment of truth came last Wednesday. I had to know whether Washington is really interested in closer economic relations with Switzerland.

I'm convinced that their interest is genuine, above all for economic reasons. Switzerland is an important trading partner for the US.

Beyond that, Rob Portman and I have managed to build up a professional relationship based on trust and friendship in a short period of time.

Mr Portman has Swiss origins going back several generations. This can be helpful and advantageous to understand the position of our country.

swissinfo: How do you see the chances of a formal free-trade agreement between Switzerland and the US?

J.D.: Let's do the work first! It is difficult to make any kind of predictions. I think we can be pleased with what we have achieved so far.

swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson in Davos

Key facts

In 2004, Swiss exports of goods and services to the US totalled SFr14.2 billion ($11.1 billion).
The US market accounts for 10% of all Swiss exports, making it the second most important market after Germany (20.6%).
In 2004, imports of US goods and services totalled SFr5.7 billion.

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In brief

Exploratory talks between Switzerland and the US on a free-trade accord ended earlier this month.

Ten days ago the Swiss cabinet asked the economics ministry to examine the chances of such an agreement and the terms for formal negotiations.

Swiss attempts to exclude certain agricultural products from the deal were not accepted by Washington.

In Davos both sides agreed on the creation of a forum to discuss closer economic ties.

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