Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann on economic mission to the Caucasus and Central Asia from 8 to 16 July

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Press releases, 06.07.2018

Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann will travel to the South Caucasus and Central Asia from 8 to 16 July, heading a sizeable 35-strong delegation including representatives from parliament, cantonal governments and the private sector. The economic mission will take in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. The aim is to identify business opportunities for Swiss firms under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, to foster relations with member countries of Switzerland’s constituency in the international financial institutions (World Bank, IMF, EBRD) and to highlight Switzerland’s development cooperation programmes (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Azerbaijan). A number of declarations of intent and memorandums are expected to be signed during the mission (Kazakhstan).

The head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) will meet most probably with members of government including the president of Azerbaijan and the prime ministers of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as ministers of economic affairs, investment, finance and trade, and local authority representatives. Meetings are also scheduled to take place with associations and representatives from the private sector and with the local Swiss business community including round tables and economic forums in various capital cities. Two declarations of intent with Kazakhstan on the future conclusion of two agreements, one on the recognition of precious metal hallmarking, and a second on the field of services (domestic regulation in trade in services) are expected to be signed.

The Swiss delegation will visit several economic zones offering facilities to foreign companies with the aim of attracting investment. The projects pursued in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative are aimed at developing transport and energy infrastructure, offering interesting opportunities to Swiss industry, such as in the field of rail transport. In Kazakhstan, the delegation will stop in Aktau, a town on the shores of the Caspian Sea destined to become a key point on the east-west transport routes of the Belt and Road Initiative. There the delegation will visit the port facilities and special economic zone. In Astana, the governor of the new international financial centre (AIFC) will give a presentation on the future role that Kazakhstan intends to play in the region’s financial sector.

Mr Schneider-Ammann’s presence in the region will be used as an opportunity to inaugurate new Swiss investment projects in the chemical industry in Azerbaijan and in the textile industry in Uzbekistan.

The mission will also allow the head of the EAER to see a selection of Swiss development cooperation projects at first hand, particularly in Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic. The projects cover different fields (support for the financial sector, trade promotion, infrastructure financing, particularly water supply in collaboration with the World Bank, and vocational education). In Bishkek, there will be an opportunity to meet with Swiss cooperation partners.

In the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at developing the old Silk Road along land-based and maritime corridors, Azerbaijan and Central Asia are gaining in importance and enjoying increased interest among economic actors. The region, which is rich in natural resources, is pursuing important economic development projects, particularly in terms of infrastructure, necessitating cooperation with foreign partners. Ambitious reform programmes have been put in place with a view to diversifying and liberalising the economy. At the end of 2017, Uzbekistan introduced a key measure by liberalising its foreign exchange policy.

Since the countries of Central Asia gained independence at the beginning of the 1990s, Switzerland has maintained close ties due to their membership of the same constituency in the Bretton Woods international financial institutions, an important aspect of these relations. One of the aims of Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann’s visit is to facilitate private sector access to these markets, which remains difficult despite various reforms, and to encourage synergies between Switzerland’s various areas of intervention in Central Asia.

Economic exchanges with the countries visited are not yet well developed, even though certain figures, particularly on imports, are high due to trade in precious metals (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz Republic) and petroleum products (Kazakhstan). Kazakhstan is Switzerland’s main market in the region followed by Uzbekistan. Despite the presence of a number of businesses, Swiss investment, on which the SNB does not publish data, is still relatively modest, except for Kazakhstan. Investment on the part of these countries in Switzerland is very modest, with the exception of Azerbaijan which occupies first place following the acquisition of the Swiss subsidiary of ExxonMobil by the national oil company Socar in 2012.