SHARE
COPY LINK

CHINA

Chinese premier touts trade deal with Swiss

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sees a looming free-trade deal with Switzerland as a touchstone for Beijing's growing ties with foreign nations, he told a Swiss newspaper on Thursday ahead of a landmark visit to Europe.

Chinese premier touts trade deal with Swiss
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Photo: AFP

Li was scheduled to arrive in Switzerland late on Thursday 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 
Friday.
   
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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CHINA

Swiss claim China deal posed no threat to dissidents

The Swiss strongly rejected accusations this week that a deal allowing Chinese officials to enter Switzerland and interrogate Chinese nationals, which only recently came to light, put dissidents at risk.

Swiss claim China deal posed no threat to dissidents
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in Beijing in 2016. Photo: Mark Schiedelbein/POOL/AFP
Switzerland entered into a so-called re-admission agreement with China back in 2015. The deal expired on Monday.
   
The agreement, which remained a secret until Swiss newspaper NZZ divulged its existence in August, specified the terms for Chinese officials to travel to the country and interrogate Chinese nationals set for deportation.
   
Asia-focused rights group Safeguard Defenders this week published the text of the deal, plus a report about how it differed from similar agreements with other countries, and could pose a threat to “those the Chinese government wants to be returned”.
   
The details coming to light are “going to tarnish Switzerland's reputation”, Peter Dahlin, who heads the organisation, told AFP.
   
Following the initial revelation of the agreement in August, since-jailed Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong weighed in on Twitter, decrying the secretive nature of the deal.
   
“Five years after the secret deal was signed, no Swiss MP had ever heard of the deal,” he tweeted on August 24, warning that “dissidents in exile” from Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere, could risk extradition to China.
 
 
'Standard practice'
 
The Swiss migration ministry meanwhile flatly denied that there was anything secretive about the China deal, insisting it was a standard, “technical arrangement” like the ones it had reached with some 60 other countries.
   
While the agreement had never been posted publicly like many such deals, it “can be obtained on request at any time”, it said in a statement.   
 
Ministry spokesman Reto Kormann also stressed to AFP in an email that persons seen as threatened, like Uighur Muslims or Tibetans, would not be considered for expulsion, and “would not be questioned by Chinese officials”.
   
He explained that readmission agreements were needed because “most states are only willing to take back their own citizens if they can verify their identity”.
   
“Accordingly, such interviews are standard practice in Switzerland as in other European states.”
   
The China deal had been put to use only once in the past five years, in 2016, the ministry said. During that mission, “two Chinese officials stayed in Switzerland for several days to interview a total of 13 people”, it said.
   
The Swiss migration ministry had expected to renew the agreement before it expired on December 7. But it said is was not worried it had lapsed, stressing it was possible to invite in foreign delegations even without it.
   
After the deal came to light back in August, left-leaning parties called for more oversight, and the issue will now be discussed by parliament in the coming months.
   
After that, ministry spokesman Daniel Bach told AFP, talks with Chinese authorities about reinstating the deal would begin. “It is in Switzerland's interest to renew this agreement,” he said.
 
 
'Misleading'
 
The Safeguard Defenders report meanwhile maintained that Switzerland's deal with China was in no way like its agreements with other countries.
   
The report compared Switzerland's deal with China to the ones it has with Sweden, India, Hong Kong and Britain, and said it found glaring differences.
   
“It differs so much,” Dahlin said, that comparing it to typical readmission agreements “is itself misleading”.
   
While such agreements are usually reached with immigration departments or foreign ministries, the deal with China was reached with its public security ministry, which handles immigration, but also police and intelligence matters.
   
The Chinese “experts” sent in are not immigration bureaucrats, but “agents”, Dahlin said, adding that the deal allowed them to “roam freely, conduct interviews and interrogations unsupervised”.
   
He warned the agents could conceivably also move freely throughout Europe's passport-free Schengen area, which “would obviously be a major concern for the capitals in the countries around Switzerland”.
   
Kormann however stressed that the Swiss migration ministry plans the duration of assignments, and the duration of the visas accordingly.
   
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry meanwhile told AFP the criticism of its agreement with Switzerland was based on “a misinterpretation of the facts”.
   
“Other European countries engage in similar cooperation with China,” she said.
SHOW COMMENTS