China, Switzerland sign declaration with view to expanding trade

GENEVA (Reuters) – China and Switzerland signed a joint declaration on Monday agreeing to deepen their partnership after Premier Li Qiang met the Swiss President, the Swiss government said.

Li, the most senior Chinese official to visit Switzerland since President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2017, met President Viola Amherd alongside a high-ranking Chinese delegation ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The declaration entails the finalisation of a joint study to develop the two countries’ existing free trade agreement. “This marks an important step towards the start of possible negotiations,” the Swiss government said.

China is Switzerland’s third-biggest trading partner after the United States and the European Union. The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 2013, Beijing’s first such deal with an economy in continental Europe.

But efforts to refresh it previously stalled amid reports of concerns about China’s human rights record. A dialogue between the Swiss and Chinese foreign ministries will resume this year and is set to include human rights.

Li and Amherd, who met in an 18th century manor house near the capital Bern, also discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict, the Swiss statement said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Matthias Williams and Nick Macfie)