Chinese premier touts trade deal with Swiss
AFP · 23 May 2013, 14:31
Published: 23 May 2013 14:31 GMT+02:00
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Li was scheduled to arrive in Switzerland late for trade-focused talks in what is the first stop on his debut visit to Europe since taking over in a once-in-a-decade power transfer in Beijing.
In an opinion piece published in the Zurich daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Li wrote that the upcoming deal and his trip itself were "symbolic of China's openness to the outside world".
Li, who took charge as premier in March, is on his maiden foreign tour and arrives in Switzerland fresh from talks with neighbours India and Pakistan, before heading to top European trade partner Germany at the weekend.
Economic issues are set to be sharply in focus in his meeting with the Swiss — who are not members of the European Union — as the two countries move to sign a free-trade accord which has been under negotiation since 2011.
"Switzerland will be the first continental European country, as well as the first in a list of the 20 largest global economies, to have concluded a key free-trade deal with China," Li wrote.
"This will not only enhance our economic and trade cooperation, but also send the world a strong signal about the fight against trade and investment protectionism, as well as the liberalisation and facilitation of trade," he underlined.
"It will give a new impulse to the deepening of relations and trade ties between Europe and China, bring tangible benefits for consumers and business in both countries, and contribute to the growth of world trade and the economic recovery," he added.
The core of Li's talks with Swiss leaders are scheduled for .
After wrangling notably over Chinese taxes on imported Swiss industrial goods and Switzerland's rules on China's agricultural exports, the two countries' negotiators wrapped up the technical details earlier this month.
That opened the way for their governments to prepare for a signature, although the deal itself is not set to be inked during Li's visit, as the two sides' legal teams are still analysing it.
China is already Switzerland's third major trading partner, after the European Union and the United States.
Bilateral trade between Switzerland and China was worth $26.3 billion in 2012, with a full $22.8 billion of that figure represented by Swiss exports to China.
That made it one of the rare Western countries to have a positive trade balance with the Asian giant.
In contrast, German exports to China in 2012 were worth the equivaliant of $86 billion, and imports from China, $99.8 billion.
Switzerland's top exports to China are watches, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, and machinery, while textiles and machinery head the list of imported Chinese goods.