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China refusing Swiss effort to add human rights element in free trade accord?

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(TibetanReview.net, May30’22) – Switzerland wants to refresh its free trade agreement with China by seeking to include human rights elements, but the latter is not cooperating, reported Reuters May 29, citing Swiss newspapers.

The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 2013, China’s first such deal with an economy in continental Europe. The move was at that time cited as a mutually beneficial pact aimed at contributing to increased trade between the two economies.

But in recent years, Switzerland has been trying to update the accord by seeking to extend tariff reductions to more Swiss products and to expand the agreement to include sustainability features. However, Beijing was refusing to cooperate, the newspapers were cited as saying May 29.

“So far it has not been possible to agree on a common list of topics that should be explored in greater depth,” Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has said in a statement to newspaper SonntagsBlick.

Likewise, NZZ am Sonntag has, under the headline “The Chinese impasse”, said Switzerland had become more critical of China’s human rights record.

This apparently referred to the fact that a Swiss parliamentary initiative recently passed by the National Council’s Legal Affairs Committee denounced forced labour of Uyghurs in northwest China as “a real problem”.

However, Jean-Philippe Kohl, head of economic policy at industry association Swissmem, is said to fear that raising such an issue could lead to a breakdown in bilateral relations.

He supports China’s well known, totally ineffective position that Switzerland should pursue quiet diplomacy on China’s human rights record.

“If we, as a small economy, constantly point the finger of rebuke at China, nothing will change, except that relations will eventually break down,” he has told the newspaper.

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