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New growth areas for Switzerland and Singapore

Swiss Ambassador Fabrice Filliez highlights many new opportunities for mutual benefit.

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Ambassador Filliez says more than 400 Swiss companies in Singapore employ over 26,000 people here.

The Business Times: In your view, what are some of the new areas that Swiss and Singapore businesses can tap on with each other's help to grow further?

Ambassador Fabrice Filliez: The world economy is undergoing a major shift in dynamics, and technology is at the forefront of this change. With both countries' excellent standing and expertise in the verticals markets such as fintech, artificial intelligence (AI), medtech, biotech and urban solutions, companies can and should find areas to collaborate and to scale. These are definitely the sectors where Switzerland and Singapore have common interests.

Geographically, both Switzerland and Singapore share being in the heart of their continents. South-east Asia is an exciting region with a vibrant middle class appeal. Their purchasing power is growing and with it, the desire for more specialised consumer and lifestyle products and services. This environment welcomes Swiss companies to leverage on Singapore's strength as a leading trading hub and to explore the use of e-commerce as a tool to reach out to potential customers.

At the same time, Singapore companies should count on Switzerland's pro-business policies, highly skilled workforce and excellent connectivity as a smooth gateway to Europe's markets.

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BT: Switzerland is focusing on fintech and participated in the Singapore Fintech festival last November - how can the two countries collaborate to reap advantages for mutual benefit?

Ambassador Filliez: Singapore and Switzerland are two important global financial hubs, flirting with top positions in various international rankings. No doubt, both of them can efficiently complement each other and get stronger together, by stimulating excellence and efficiency on a regional and global scale.

According to a recent study by the Institute for Financial Services Zug (IFZ) at the Lucerne University of Applied Science, both our countries distinguish themselves as forerunners with top spots in the Ranking of the Global Fintech Hubs 2018.

As the fintech sandbox is evolving constantly, I am pleased to note the robust collaborations at all levels of the ecosystem, which I see as one of the most important factors for the benefit of our states. For example, Swiss F10 Fintech accelerator (Zurich) will hold in Singapore this September the 2nd edition of its Fintech Hackaton.

Our financial authorities have regular consultative dialogues. Our regulators, the MAS and the FINMA signed a Memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 2016 that commits to speed up the time-to-market for new and innovative fintech solutions.

The Fintech festival is a great platform for exchange. It has drawn a strong interest from Swiss fintech companies. The development of the Swiss Pavilion over the last three years is impressive. And this year, we are confident of breaking new grounds with the number of companies represented and the spectrum of solutions that will be on offer. State Secretary for International Affairs, Ms Daniela Stoffel, will be joining us for this occasion.

BT: As a leading global financial centre, can your country help to promote cyber security for banks in Singapore and the region?

Ambassador Filliez: Cyber security is one of the central topics in Switzerland. That's why the Swiss Federal Council published in 2018 a corresponding National Strategy. It follows a three-pronged approach for the protection of Switzerland against cyber risks. Broadly, it aims to early identify threats in the cyber field, to improve resilience of critical infrastructure and to effectively reduce cyber risks, especially cyber crime and cyber sabotage.

In order to succeed with our strategy we naturally need partners from the private sector. Fortunately, we have a very stimulating ecosystem for new innovative firms and thus already house some of the indisputable industry leaders.

As an example, NetGuardians, a Swiss fintech company, has inaugurated its new Asia Pacific Headquarters in Singapore in February 2018 to boost its capacity in bringing smart fraud preventing AI solutions to more financial institutions across the region. Also Swiss FTS (Forensic Technology Solutions), one of the leading corporate investigations firms in Switzerland in IT Forensics and eDiscovery, opened an office in Singapore last year.

So yes, we can and we do already.

BT: The Embassy of Switzerland organised a Swiss Week this year. What was its purpose and how did it go?

Ambassador Filliez: The Embassy presented a Swiss Week in April this year. The purpose was to showcase Switzerland as an open, innovative and contemporary country and to enhance our visibility in Singapore through a series of diverse actions.

This Swiss Week - a week-long festival featuring design, architecture, culinary experiences and link with nature - was quite a success, as more than 30,000 visited the various activities that centered on Swiss excellence in the above areas.

The activities ranged from exhibitions of contemporary photography by Cortis and Sonderegger and "ECAL Design for Luxury and Craftsmanship" at the National Design Centre to a master class at SUTD by the Swiss renowned contemporary architect Mario Botta, as well as some Swiss chocolate making sessions and sewing workshop for guests of all ages.

There was also the Swiss Singapore friendship hike in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve valuably supported by Senior Minister of State Sim Ann. We were happy how the week turned out. For the many visitors it was an immersion into Swiss culture.

BT: Over 400 Swiss companies are already based in Singapore. What is attracting a new wave of Swiss SMEs here and what businesses are they in?

Ambassador Filliez: Switzerland has a strong economic presence in Singapore already. More than 400 Swiss companies employ over 26,000 people here. Not surprising that many of these firms have made Singapore their regional hub for South-east Asia.

At the embassy we have our finger on the pulse of new developments thanks to our Swiss Business Hub for the Asean region. The hub supports Swiss SMEs' plans to venture into Singapore and is thus always in the know. What we see is that the new wave of Swiss SMEs is definitely driven by the digital economy. In general the make-up of the firms mirrors the structure of the Swiss economy which is an extremely vibrant and a multi-track business community.

To illustrate the diversity of Swiss companies in Singapore, I can mention some of the new openings in the last 12 months.

In October 2018, ABB inaugurated its Customer Innovation Center showing how it is pioneering digitalisation and driving unprecedented revolutionary change in the energy and industry space in the region. Givaudan, the global leader in the creation of flavours and fragrances, opened in February this year its first fragrance encapsulation centre in Singapore for the Asia Pacific market. In March, V-Zug, Swiss high quality and innovative household appliances company, opened here its state-of-the-art Zugorama along with a concept restaurant V-Dining. Same month, Omya, a world leader in supplying industrial minerals, chose the city-state to locate its new technological centre.

Other sectors include Swiss design furniture company, Vitra, with a recent flagship store in Singapore; premium Swiss chocolate maker Läderach with its new boutique at Jewel Changi Airport; Swiss-made herbal creams and essential oils at Just's new store; and Bernina, the world's leading manufacturer of sewing machines, with the official opening of a showroom at Funan Mall on 1 August 2019.

BT: How will Switzerland's EHL opening of its first overseas campus in Singapore help in the growth of bilateral relations?

Ambassador Filliez: The EHL project in Singapore will be the first campus of a Swiss university overseas ever. This shows how strategically important this beautiful island is for Swiss institutions in their internationalisation. Beyond the institutional ties, the EHL campus will mean hundreds of additional bachelor's students coming to Singapore, as well as staff and a faculty to develop programmes in hospitality. They will also provide executive and continued education tracks. Finally, the school will be able to showcase here the Swiss values of education and to act as a bridge between our two countries.

BT: Your Defence Minister regularly attends the Shangri-La Dialogue - how does Switzerland see its importance?

Ambassador Filliez: The annual Shangri-La Dialogue is one of the major events for our Embassy every year. It represents for us a unique opportunity to get together with other states to discuss and assess security trends regionally and globally. It provides a necessary platform for our defence representatives to hold formal and informal talks, to test ideas and to sharpen their understanding on how to advance security policies. The forum's relevance is clearly on the rise at a moment when new threats, notably in the cyber domain, are placing themselves high on the agenda. In the broader context, I am glad to inform that a post of Defence Attaché has been established at the Swiss Embassy in Singapore as of August 2019 and will handle defence, security and military relations.

BT: Are there any new bilateral agreements coming into force this year?

Ambassador Filliez: Yes, indeed. The bilateral agreement on the introduction of the automatic exchange of financial account information (AEOI) between Singapore and Switzerland enters into force on 1 August 2019.

Signed in July 2017, this instrument was provisionally applied pending the completion of the parliamentary approval procedures. The Swiss Parliament approved the agreement in the 2018 winter session. After the expiry of the referendum deadlines in spring 2019, the required notifications were exchanged between the parties in July 2019.

Based on this agreement, Switzerland and Singapore will exchange in September 2019, on a reciprocal basis, information on financial accounts collected in 2018. This agreement forms part of the global implementation of the internationally agreed Common Reporting Standard, endorsed by the OECD and the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes.