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Bilateral cooperation in multiple ways
BILATERAL ties between Switzerland and Singapore continue to be strong and dynamic, and there is successful cooperation in multilateral forums as well, which is good in the current uncertain times, says Switzerland's Ambassador in Singapore, Fabrice Filliez.
"Swiss-Singapore relations are good and cordial as always, only that for a while we could not sit down together to discuss the various topics that are keeping us busy. Instead, we are communicating in digital format, which works fine for the purpose but - let us be honest - it is not comparable to face-to-face meetings," he tells The Business Times in an interview on the occasion of the Swiss National Day on August 1.
"Yet, the Covid-19 pandemic reminds us how interdependent we are. In April 2020, when the Swiss village of Zermatt in solidarity with Singapore projected the Singapore flag on the famous Matterhorn mountain, we had very positive echoes at the highest level: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his deputy Heng Swee Keat and Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan expressed their thanks for this gesture. We also received many warm reactions from individuals. This worked as an important channel of mutual support and inspiration."
As globalised nations, both Switzerland and Singapore have a deep interest in keeping global trade flowing and global supply chains open. In order to do this wisely, there is a lot of joint work ahead, says the Swiss ambassador.
"At the multilateral level, we have cooperated successfully in New York, where Switzerland and Singapore, together with four other nations, brought up the first United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Covid-19, which was adopted with consensus. The resolution is a sound political signal to reaffirm values and solidarity. We are both committed to preserving and re-enforcing a rules-based international order and multilateralism. As small states, we are natural partners in many international organisations."
Most recently, Switzerland and Singapore have come together to co-lead the "Friends of Covax Facility" to promote vaccine multilateralism. The facility is envisioned as a contact group for like-minded countries to exchange ideas and to contribute to its goals.
Switzerland is also thrilled at the election of Singapore's Daren Tang as the new director general of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), headquartered in Geneva. Switzerland is glad to have such a competent and experienced leader as the head of WIPO, says the Swiss envoy.
Mr Filliez says that there have been many positive developments in Swiss-Singapore bilateral relations over the past year. "One of them was the Fintech Festival in November 2019 at which Ms Daniela Stoffel, the Swiss Secretary of State for International Finance, was a panel speaker on the opening day and shared her insights on '2020: Policy Choices for the Digital Economy'."
"We were proud of the Swiss Pavilion at the Festival. It was a flagship project for the Swiss Business Hub Asean which is a part of our Embassy. With 24 Swiss companies exhibiting alongside Swiss Global Enterprise, we were able to showcase the vibrancy of the Swiss ecosystem and to provide opportunities for co-innovation, partnerships and deal-making. Another key event was the Singapore Air Show in February 2020 which was attended by a high level Swiss delegation and many Swiss exhibitors."
Top hospitality school
"Furthermore, we are equally pleased that the Lausanne School of Hospitality (EHL) - the No 1 ranked hospitality school in the world - has received the green light to open its Asia-Pacific branch campus here. EHL Campus (Singapore) plans to deliver the same globally recognised Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management degree as EHL Campus Lausanne, thus helping talented students from Singapore and beyond to build a successful hospitality career while uniting Swiss excellence and Asian refinement. The first intake is expected to begin their preparatory year at EHL Lausanne in September 2020 and join EHL Singapore the following year," says Mr Filliez.
However, due to the pandemic, regrettably many important international gatherings such as the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, and the St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, as well as some other major events and fairs were postponed.
Importantly, in view of the close Swiss-Singapore ties, Singapore Airlines continues with its thrice weekly service to Zurich, the Swiss financial hub, enabling businessmen and others to travel between the two countries. Swiss Air has resumed flying to Singapore.
Meanwhile, the Swiss Embassy has maintained its operations, implementing all necessary protection measures. Consular relations have been among the major priorities with the embassy providing assistance to Swiss nationals living in or visiting Singapore. "We are in constant and constructive dialogue with Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and are grateful for the good spirit of cooperation," says the Swiss ambassador.
He hopes that the borders will progressively re-open and allow official, business and private activities to resume. "We are looking forward to fostering our bilateral cooperation and supporting each other in areas of common interest such as upholding a rules-based international order, global supply chains and open markets."
The pandemic has wide-ranging consequences beyond Switzerland and Singapore. Unprecedented measures have been taken to preserve public health globally. Economic actors have to cope with disruptions and have developed innovative approaches towards business continuity. "We are living in unprecedented times and are on a constant learning curve towards a new normal.
"According to the recent IMD World Competitiveness Report, small economies like Switzerland and Singapore seem to have an advantage in terms of resilience in difficult times. In that sense, both our countries can look forward to the future with a certain sanguinity," says Mr Filliez.
Singapore is Switzerland's most important trading partner in Southeast Asia. Both countries have similar economic strengths with their established services, and finance and banking sectors. With highly developed industries and infrastructure, Switzerland offers targeted products and services that Singapore consumes and benefits from, leading to robust economic ties, for example, in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, engineering and chemicals. Singapore on its part offers Swiss companies the ideal hub for seeking a deep understanding of this diverse region.
"As a cosmopolitan city, Singapore serves not only as a business hub for entry into the myriad Asian markets but also a representative market to introduce new products and brands to the consumers. After all, Southeast Asia is an emerging market of over 600 million consumers. Regional economic integration under the Asean partners will drive further growth for the benefit of all," says Mr Filliez.
Beyond building new capabilities, promotion of classical forms of entrepreneurship is among the priorities for Switzerland. "In today's fast changing world, entrepreneurs are instrumental in driving growth, innovation and employment. There is room for Switzerland and Singapore to work together to take their startups and local companies into the world. There are new spaces in the ecosystem to encourage collaborations in entrepreneurship and to co-innovate towards progressive solutions, thus strengthening Swiss-Singapore business ties," he adds.