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“SWITZERLAND WILL DO ITS BEST TO SUPPORT RUSSIA ON ITS ROAD TO MODERNISATION”

BUSINESS MIR, Business mir #20 - 2011-10 MAIL PRINT 
Business Mir met with Mr. Johann Schneider-Amman, the Swiss Federal Councillor charged with heading the Federal Department for Economic Affairs, and interviewed him about his recent journey to the Swissrail Forum in Moscow as well as his views on Russo-Swiss relations.
Photo: Béatrice Devènes
You held Swissrail Industry’s first forum in Russia in last July. What were this important delegation’s goals?
The Swissrail forum in Moscow provided an opportunity to share ideas and information on projects planned for the Russian railway network, to learn about each others’ interests and to expand and strengthen business contacts. This is very important, as the railway industry is a high-tech intensive sector in which there is great potential for Switzerland and Russia to cooperate. What is more, President Medvedev has begun a complete modernisation of Russia. It is essential for a country to have modern infrastructure if its economy is to thrive. There is no doubt that rail travel innovation will improve Russia’s competitiveness, attract investment and create jobs.
What is your opinion on Russo-Swiss relations at this point in time? What do you expect to see evolving in economic and political relations between Switzerland and Russia?
Switzerland and Russia enjoy excellent relations. Russia is an important economic partner and a focus of Swiss foreign economic policy. Our mutual interests are demonstrated in frequent contact between leading Swiss and Russian players. Russia views Switzerland as a stable, reliable and competent partner. Switzerland sees Russia – or rather the Russia-Belarus- Kazakhstan (RuBeKa) Customs Union – as an important market with huge growth potential.
How can Switzerland be of use to Russia? And vice versa? In which sectors could the two countries reinforce their partnership?
The outlook for bilateral economic relations between Switzerland and Russia is promising. With its modern economic structure, know-how and innovative technology, Switzerland is viewed as a very attractive partner by Russia due to the fact that the country is hoping to realise ambitious modernisation plans. The successfully concluded Swiss-Russian action plan for economic cooperation 2007-2010 should be cited in this context. I am very enthusiastic about the adapted plan for 2011-2013 which came into effect at the beginning of this year. It focuses on energy efficiency, health (medical technology/pharmaceuticals), mechanical engineering as well as the IT and nanotechnology sectors. Switzerland and Russia may also operate as partners in other areas, such as finance. For instance, I am aware of the fact that the Russian leadership intends to make Moscow an international financial centre. How can Switzerland support Russia in the modernisation process? The Joint Modernisation Declaration signed in July by myself and Russia’s Minister for Economic Development, Elvira Nabiullina, stated that economic development must be closely linked with societal development as a whole and has to be accompanied by efforts in other areas, such as developing civil society, Russia’s legal system and fighting corruption. I have assured my Russian partners in Moscow that they will have Switzerland’s full support in continuing development of the aforementioned areas.
What is the Joint Swiss-Russian Declaration on Cooperation for the Purposes of Modernisation and what are its main functions and principles?
The joint declaration expresses the willingness of both parties to form a modernisation partnership. It envisages closer cooperation between our two countries in the areas of mutual investment, emerging technologies and innovation, strengthening competitiveness, long-term economic development and improving contact between economic players in both Switzerland and Russia. Projects in the sectors outlined by the 2011-2013 action plan will be given priority. The scope of possible joint activities may be expanded in future.
In your opinion, what – if any – obstacles could hamper developing commerce and investment between Russia and Switzerland?
Swiss companies tell us that there is still room for improvement in Russia’s regulatory framework in cases such as the predictability of new regulations, legal security and transparency. We also know that Swiss companies in Russia occasionally experience difficulties with complicated registration and certification procedures. The Russian government has introduced a range of measures to protect and support domestic producers (e.g. pharmaceutical companies). Switzerland is of the opinion that these should be implemented in a transparent and non-discriminatory way. Furthermore, we would like to see customs and trade facilitation.
How does the Swiss government support Swiss companies that want to enter the Russian market? Does the Swiss Confederation have any concrete measures to promote such incentives?
Over the past few years several bilateral mechanisms have been implemented to promote economic relations between Switzerland and Russia. In particular, we have the annual conferences of the Swiss-Russian Joint Economic Commission, gatherings that act as an efficient consultation forum designed to maintain bilateral relations and frequently contribute to solving economic problems between the two nations. Issues relating to specific companies may also be discussed in this forum. Swiss Business Hub Russia is another presence which is affiliated to our embassy in Moscow. The Hub works in partnership with OSEC, the Swiss- Liechtenstein export promotion platform. It collects the latest information about the Russian market for Swiss business people and regularly reports on changes in legislation. It also provides support to Russian companies interested in doing business in Switzerland. These services are primarily targeted at small and medium- sized businesses. Negotiations on a free-trade agreement between the EFTA and the Russia- Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union are still ongoing.
What – if any – are the stumbling blocks and when are the negotiations expected to be concluded?
Free trade negotiations between the EFTA states and the Russia-Belarus- Kazakhstan Customs Union began in January of this year. Two rounds of negotiations have taken place to date. Talks are going well and according to plan. Both sides are keen to work towards concluding the negotiations quickly. Negotiations are also currently underway regarding the RuBeKa states’ application for WTO membership, which is relevant here as the EFTA free trade agreements are based on WTO rules and obligations.
What effects and tangible advantages would a free-trade agreement have on a Swiss business working on the Russian market and vice versa?
Switzerland and the RuBeKa nations aspire to making it easier to promote economic exchanges by liberalising markets and improving legal guarantees in a range of areas, including trade (industrial and agricultural goods), services, investment, public procurement and intellectual property. This will open up new business opportunities for the companies involved. A free trade agreement will also ensure sustainability in terms of economic growth as well as societal and environmental development.
What kind of things struck you as memorable during your visit to Russia (both positive and negative)?
I got a good perspective on Russia’s latest economic and societal reforms during my last visit. The will to modernise was evident everywhere but there still seems to be some vagueness in defining the term. Whereas the traditional understanding of ‘modernisation’ in Russia tends to imply the development of a technocratic society, Russia’s current leadership is clearly realising that what makes a country ‘modern’ is more than innovative products and cutting-edge technology. The modernisation process also requires societal structures that extend far beyond economic considerations; structures which actually make economic innovation possible. Switzerland will do its best to support Russia on its road to modernisation.
BUSINESS MIR, Business mir #20 - 2011-10  MAIL PRINT 
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Ежедневные новости и аналитика из Швейцарии и Европы, политика, экономика, интервью

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