In another major coup for China’s overseas engagement, Switzerland is set to be the latest country to sign up to the Belt and Road initiative. The move will likely take place during the state visit to China by President Ueli Maurer, who will be accompanied by a sizeable delegation of finance and business executives.
This development comes one month after Italy signed a Belt & Road memorandum of understanding (MOU), a move that drew sharp criticism from the United States. Some commentators suggest that that decision by Italy was a watershed moment for the whole multi-country infrastructure initiative, as Italy became the first G7 nation to sign up to Belt Road.
Unlike Italy, Switzerland is outside of the European Union (EU), but has a close relationship with the EU via membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This wealthy, landlocked country, a longtime destination for vast sums of capital, is a major international financial centre, so the upcoming MOU represents another big step up for the burgeoning Belt Road.
According to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), since 2010, China has been Switzerland's most important trading partner in Asia. More broadly, China is Switzerland’s largest trading partner after the EU and the US.
Maurer is also the Swiss finance minister. According to the Federal Department of Finance in Bern, he will be in China during April 22-30.
During April 23-25 President Maurer is scheduled to meet representatives from the Chinese authorities and the financial sector in Shanghai and Beijing.
On Friday, April 26, and on the following day, Maurer will attend the second Belt and Road Forum on international cooperation, where development strategies and questions concerning infrastructure and sustainability will be high on the agenda. Around 40 heads of state and government are expected to attend. Switzerland will be represented at the Belt and Road Forum for the second time, supporting the contribution made by the Belt Road to furthering relations between Asia and Europe.
Maurer's official state visit will take place from April 28-29, during when he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. During this visit the MOU will be signed, an initiative that spawns from a federal council decision taken on April 10. On the Swiss side the MOU will be signed by state secretaries Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, director of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), and Daniela Stoffel, director of the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF).
According to the Swiss government, the aim of the memorandum is for both parties to intensify cooperation on trade, investment and project financing in third markets along the routes of the Belt Road, based on a catalogue of basic principles for cooperation and in line with international standards and legislation in the countries concerned. The text of the MOU will be published after the signing.
The two countries are already conducting bilateral dialogues covering 30 areas aimed at addressing specific issues. These include high-level political consultations on economic affairs, human rights, migration, labour law, intellectual property, and financial issues. Further important areas of cooperation include science and technology, health and the environment.
A Sino-Swiss free trade agreement was signed in July 2013 and came into effect one year later. In May 2013, an MOU was signed to mark the start of a bilateral dialogue on financial matters between the People’s Bank of China and the State Secretariat for Financial Matters.
In 2016, the Sino-Swiss innovative strategic partnership was established. In April 2018, the two countries held the first edition of the strategic dialogue and introduced an innovative high-level strategic platform.