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TRADE

Swiss trade surplus leaps in November

Switzerland's trade surplus leapt 69.6 percent to three billion francs ($3.2 billion) in November, largely owing to a drop in imports, customs officials said on Monday.

The Swiss central bank is operating a policy of capping a rise of the franc in response to the eurozone crisis to retain the competitiveness of Swiss business.

Exports rose 0.9 percent to 17.8 billion francs compared to the figure for the same month last year, marking a slowdown from a 1.5 percent increase in October.

Sales by the watch manufacturing industry in the busy Christmas shopping season accounted for a large part of exports followed by food and chemicals.

Imports flagged however, dropping 6.7 percent to 14.8 billion Swiss francs, underlining a slowdown in activity in the country which has begun to feel the effects of the eurozone crisis. It followed a 0.6 rise in imports in October.

Since the beginning of the year Switzerland’s has posted a trade surplus of 21.8 billion francs.

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TRADE

EXPLAINED: What is at stake in Switzerland’s March 7th referendums?

Swiss voters will weigh in on controversial issues such as the 'burka ban', an electronic identification law, and a free trade agreement with Indonesia.

EXPLAINED: What is at stake in Switzerland’s March 7th referendums?
Face concealment in public will be one of the topics of the March 7th referendum. Photo by AFP

Ban on concealing the face

Backed by right-wing groups, the so-called ‘anti-burqa’ initiative seeks to outlaw both religious and non-religious forms of facial concealment in public spaces.

Exemptions would apply to religious sites, health reasons or in the event of particular weather conditions.

Supporters of the initiative argue that on one hand the ban would reaffirm the fundamental Western values and, on the other, ensure safety and security by preventing “masked delinquents” from perpetrating crimes. 

The government is opposing the initiative, claiming that “for the Federal Council and Parliament, the initiative goes too far.” 

It has created a less drastic counter-proposal that would require everyone to show their faces to the police or other officials for identification purposes.

The counter-proposal would come into force only if the initiative is rejected.

An estimated 30 to 100 women residing wear a burqa or niqab in Switzerland, a country of 8.5 million people. 

But opponents also claim that tourists from wealthy Gulf countries could be discouraged from coming to Switzerland if the initiative is accepted.

So far, two cantons — Ticino and St. Gallen — have a legislation prohibiting burqas in public spaces.

Federal Act on Electronic Identification Services (e-ID Act)

All the users of online services have to provide details of their identity, often involving a user name and password.

But these methods are not regulated by law in Switzerland, and there is no guarantee that they are secure and reliable. 

The Federal Council and Parliament have proposed to introduce a federally recognised electronic identity, the e-ID, allowing, according to the government, secure online transactions.

However, opponents of this measure are arguing that issuing such a card should not be the government’s responsibility. Instead, private companies could issue digital identity cards.

Others claim that creating of digital cards should be a common effort of the government and private sector.

The free trade agreement between Switzerland and Indonesia

This agreement between Switzerland and Indonesia would drastically reduce customs duties for the Swiss export industry, resulting in savings of 25 million francs a year.

In return, Indonesia will be able to sell its industrial products tax-free on the Swiss market. In return, Switzerland  will be granted concessions on certain agricultural products – notably palm oil.

The agreement contains a series of sustainability requirements aimed at protecting the environment and human rights in Indonesia.

Opponents — including anti-globalisation groups, leftist political parties, as well as several associations of small farmers and environmental advocates — claim that excessive trade causes pollution, and leads to the violations against the indigenous population in Indonesia.

Concerns have also been voiced about the destruction of the rainforest in Southeast Asia.

However, the government says the free trade agreement includes safeguards to ensure compliance with environmental and social standards.

READ MORE: Today in Switzerland: A round-up of the latest news on Wednesday

 

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