China edges closer to upgrading free trade agreement with Switzerland for deeper collaboration

Containers are unloaded at Qingdao Port in Shandong province. [Photo by Yu Fangping/For China Daily]
BERN, Switzerland – China and Switzerland announced on Monday the completion of the joint feasibility study on upgrading the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), an important stride towards negotiations and deeper economic cooperation.

During talks between visiting Chinese Premier Li Qiang and President of the Swiss Confederation Viola Amherd on Monday, the two sides agreed on the early launch of formal negotiations on upgrading the FTA.

Li arrived in Switzerland on Sunday for an official visit, kicking off the latest episode of high-level exchanges between the two countries.

Cui Hongjian, professor of the Academy of Regional and Global Governance at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that it reflected a commitment from both nations to foster open and fair trade in an era where protectionism has cast a shadow over international commerce.

“Against the backdrop of the surging anti-globalization and protectionism, the collaborative move between China and Switzerland sent out the clear signal of upholding the rules-based multilateralism and free trade,” the expert told Xinhua.

China and Switzerland have been committed to nurturing strong economic ties. In 2022, two-way trade amounted to $57.3 billion, up by 30 percent year-on-year, according to statistics from China’s General Administration of Customs.

Cui said possible reductions in trade barriers and elimination of tariffs will enhance market access for businesses on both sides and promote a more seamless flow of goods and services, thus bringing about a surge in bilateral trade and investment.

During Li’s stay in Switzerland, China announced a unilateral visa-free treatment to Switzerland, and the Swiss side more visa facilitation for Chinese citizens as well as Chinese enterprises investing in Switzerland.

These policies will facilitate cultural and economic exchanges, boost tourism, and attract foreign investment for both sides, Cui added.

Switzerland, as one of the first Western countries to recognize the newly founded People’s Republic of China, established diplomatic relations with China in 1950. Since then remarkable progress has been made in bilateral exchanges and cooperation.

“Both sides should explore more converging interests, bolster cooperation in free trade, customs and other fields, and foster and strengthen new growth areas of cooperation in green development, finance and digital economy,” Li said.

Echoing Li’s remarks, the Swiss side voiced willingness to continue quality dialogue with China, deepen cooperation in such fields as economy and trade, education, finance, science and technology as well as people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

“It is a sign of a wish to deepen this very rich relationship that has brought our two countries together,” said Jean-Jacques de Dardel, former ambassador of Switzerland to China.

In 2023, Li chose Europe as his first destination for overseas visits since taking office. At the start of this year, the Chinese premier set foot again on the European continent, kicking off high-level China-Europe exchanges.

It attested to the sustained momentum of high-level China-Europe interactions, and reflected China’s readiness to collaborate with European and other nations to navigate the complexities of the contemporary global landscape, said Yang Chenxi, a researcher at China Institute of International Studies.

During his stay in Switzerland, Li will also attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 and deliver a special address. The world is anticipating China’s sustained endeavor to facilitate economic globalization as well as its proposals on fostering drivers for growth.

“China has an important voice in world affairs, and we do hope that this voice will be used to the best benefits of all parties involved in a year of tensions and international difficulties,” Jean-Jacques de Dardel told Xinhua.

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