CHINA: China Extends Unilateral Visa-Free Policy to Switzerland, Announces FTA Upgrade

As published on: china-briefing.com, Tuesday 16 January, 2024. 

On January 15, 2024, China announced the implementation of a visa-free policy for citizens of Switzerland. The news comes in the wake of a meeting between Swiss President Viola Amherd and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, signaling a noteworthy development in the diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Central to the discussions during this meeting was the prospect of upgrading the China-Switzerland Free Trade Agreement (FTA). As reported by the Chinese foreign ministry in a statement after the meeting, “The two sides announced the completion of the joint feasibility study on the upgrading of the China-Switzerland FTA and agreed to support the launch of formal upgrading negotiations as soon as possible.”

Following his arrival in Zurich on January 14, Premier Li is set to participate in the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, alongside world leaders. His European tour will conclude with an official visit to Ireland, marking a four-day diplomatic engagement.

Key developments
The meeting between Chinese Premier Li and Swiss President Amherd marks several key developments.

Formal FTA upgrade negotiations: Both parties have expressed unwavering support for promptly launching formal negotiations to upgrade the existing FTA. This underscores a shared commitment to advancing and strengthening economic ties between China and Switzerland.
Elevating economic cooperation: The initiative to upgrade the FTA holds the promise of elevating economic cooperation to new heights. It builds upon the foundation established in 2013 when China and Switzerland initially signed the FTA, marking a significant milestone in bilateral economic relations.
Strategic dialogue and meetings: In addition to the FTA upgrade, the two sides have outlined comprehensive plans for strategic dialogues and meetings. This includes a new round of China-Switzerland strategic dialogue at the foreign minister level, working group meetings on finance and energy, education policy dialogue, and consultations on UN Security Council affairs. These discussions aim to create an environment conducive to deeper collaboration across various sectors.
Visa-free policy and facilitated people-to-people exchanges: Recognizing the importance of people-to-people exchanges, China will implement a unilateral visa-free policy for Switzerland. Simultaneously, the Swiss side will provide more visa facilitation for Chinese citizens and enterprises investing in Switzerland. Both nations plan to leverage the 75th anniversary of diplomatic ties next year to strengthen these exchanges.
China-Switzerland economic ties
China emerged as Switzerland’s fourth-largest individual trading partner in 2021, following Germany, the United States, and Italy – although, nearly 58 percent of Swiss trade is attributed to the European Union as a whole.

Today, Switzerland’s reputation as a welcoming hub for Chinese high-tech companies stands strong, positioning it favorably amid global shifts in technology landscapes. Amidst concerns raised by the United States in recent years, Switzerland maintained its openness to collaboration with Chinese tech entities.

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Major Chinese investors, including tech giants Huawei and Neusoft, have found a footing in Switzerland. Simultaneously, Swiss investors, such as technology company ABB, food giant Nestle, and healthcare giant Roche, have established their presence in China. This mutual investment attractiveness underscores the robust economic ties between the two nations.

Meanwhile, Switzerland’s policy of military neutrality is mirrored in its diplomatic approach. It has carefully navigated a distinct path from the European Union’s stance on China, especially during times of escalating tensions between Brussels and Beijing. This strategic positioning reinforces Switzerland’s commitment to charting an independent course in its economic and diplomatic engagements.

Sino-Swiss FTA and diplomatic relations: Broader context
The 2013 landmark FTA agreement between China and Switzerland not only served as a catalyst for fostering bilateral economic collaboration but also marked China’s inaugural foray into such agreements with continental Europe.

From 2017 onwards, a collaborative journey unfolded as both nations embarked on a feasibility study, signaling a joint commitment to explore the potential upgrade of the existing FTA.

However, the diplomatic narrative encountered a twist in mid-2022 when talks experienced a temporary freeze. This coincided with Switzerland adopting a more critical stance towards China, presenting a challenging period that underscored the complexities inherent in navigating economic partnerships amid evolving geopolitical considerations.

Observed in this broader context, Premier Li’s recent visit to Switzerland signifies more than a routine diplomatic engagement.

The meeting between leaders from both nations stands as a solid commitment from both sides to resume exchanges in diverse fields. This resumption serves as a testament to the resilience of the Sino-Swiss relationship, emphasizing a collective intent to overcome challenges and propel toward a future of strengthened collaboration.


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