The Star (Malaysia) | 23 July 2006
Swiss minister promises a favour
By PAUL GABRIEL
IT is just days before Joseph Deiss calls it a day as Switzerland’s Economics Minister, and he will be able to do so with a deep sense of satisfaction.
Deiss, whose previous engagements in Kuala Lumpur were called off due to unforeseen circumstances here, flew down last week.
It was one of his final assignments as Economics Minister.
Having accomplished his mission to come here, the minister, who quits his post on July 31, spoke of how fulfilling it was to have had a “personal insight” on Malaysia.
“I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to come and see for myself how active the Swiss business profile is,” he said in a pre-departure interview here.
“We have had Swiss companies operating here for over 100 years, and this is very significant for us. I have drawn much inspiration from my visit to Malaysia.”
Deiss was to have been the first Swiss head of government (the Swiss presidency is rotated among the seven-member federal council on a yearly basis) to visit Malaysia in March 2004, but the trip was cancelled due to the general election called here.
There has been at least another occasion when a date was confirmed for Deiss here, but other unforeseen circumstances spoiled his plans.
Deiss said although he missed the opportunity to come here as Swiss president, it did not matter very much.
“Even as Swiss president, trade matters would have still topped the agenda as I was still the Economics Minister then.
“I am not the president now, but my trip here is still significant as I remain the Economics Minister,” he pointed out.
Deiss led a business delegation, which comprised of senior officials from Novartis, Credit Suisse, SACC and Economy Swiss.
“I also wanted to come here to meet with (International Trade and Industry Minister) Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, whom I am very close to,” he added.
The minister, who also called on Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, announced that the European Free Trade Association (Efta), which comprises Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, would conduct a feasibility study on having a free trade agreement (FTA) with Malaysia.
Deiss, who is the current Efta chairman, said the association would decide on whether to proceed with the negotiations scheduled for the FTA by the end of the year.
Efta, established on May 3, 1960, comprises of European states that are non-members of the European Union.
Rafidah was reported to have stated Malaysia’s interest to have an FTA with Efta.
On other issues, Deiss said he had asked for more MAS flights between Zurich and Kuala Lumpur.
“It should be increased from the current three times a week to five. The (increased) flight connection is crucial as Malaysia is important for Swiss foreign direct investments,” he said, adding that Switzerland hoped that MAS would keep its “connection” with Zurich.
Deiss, who also discussed matters related to the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation negotiations with Rafidah, said Switzerland’s investments in Malaysia totalled 1.3bil Swiss francs (RM3.8bil) , providing 20,000 jobs here, compared to Switzerland’s 100bil franc (RM300bil) investments in the United States and 70,000 jobs created there.
“I think we can do much more here in Malaysia. We should be more present in Malaysia, as Swiss companies find Malaysia a safe and progressive nation.
“The Swiss have the highest number of globally competitive companies. In terms of highest per capita GDP, Switzerland ranks number three in the world,” he added.
There are about 120 companies with Swiss equity operating in Malaysia. The big names include Nestle, Diethelm, Roche, Novartis, Asea Brown Boveri, Contraves, Swiss International Airlines, Swatch, Hiestand, Escatec and Swiss Reinsurance.
Deiss, who will be replaced by newly-elected government member Doris Leuthard, said he felt that it was “time to go” after eight years in the Swiss Cabinet.
Before bidding adios to his 25-year political career, he pledged to do Malaysia a big favour.
“In my remaining days as Economics Minister, I will do my best to tell Swiss entrepreneurs about the energy and dynamism I saw in Malaysia, which is a progressing economy.
“There is great potential to be tapped here and Malaysia is able to compete in the global economy,” he concluded.