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TRADE

Strong franc slowed Swiss trade in 2011

Switzerland's trade performance was muted in 2011 as the strong Swiss franc and gloomy global economic outlook took their toll, official figures showed on Thursday.

Exports in 2011 rose 2.1 percent to 197.6 billion francs while imports were up 1.9 percent at 173.7 billion francs, both figures well still well below 2008 highs, the customs administration said.

In December alone, exports were flat at 15.6 billion francs ($17 billion) while imports dropped 5.3 percent to 13.6 billion francs.

The trade surplus for the year at 24 billion francs was still a record, up 22 percent from 2010, the customs said.

“While demand from Asia flourished, it stagnated in Europe,” it said in a statement.

“Aside from the global economic slowdown, the main drag on exports was the strong Swiss franc. Exporters therefore had to make price concessions, and quite significant ones in some cases,” it added.

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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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