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Sino-Swiss free trade pact signed in Beijing

By Li Jiabao and Ding Qingfen  (China Daily)

10:53, July 07, 2013

Premier Li Keqiang and Johann Schneider-Ammann, Federal Councillor and Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs of Switzerland, smile after the signing ceremony of China's first free trade agreement with a continental European nation. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

China and Switzerland formalized a free trade agreement on Saturday, making it the first such pact that China has signed with a continental European nation.

It signals Beijing's commitment to opening up the economy further and comes at a time when China and the European Union are still negotiating a trade dispute over Chinese exports of solar panels.

The FTA is not just a milestone for China-Switzerland relations, but will also have a positive impact on China-EU cooperation, Premier Li Keqiang said during an official meeting with Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann on Saturday.

It sends a strong signal to the world that both countries are against trade protectionism, Li added.

Amid a complicated world economic recovery, facilitation in trade and investment is a good way to boost global economic growth, Li said.

"The FTA fully reflects China's determination and confidence in continuing to open up its market, and the country's willingness to further advance trade ties with European countries," Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said during the signing ceremony on Saturday in Beijing.

While China and the EU are still at odds over the export of solar panels, wine as well as telecom equipment, the bilateral trade pact shows the joint efforts of the two countries in fighting trade protectionism and promoting trade liberalization, Gao said.

The two countries started FTA negotiations in January 2011, and went a total of nine rounds of talks over three years.

During his visit to Switzerland in May, on one of four stops during his first overseas trip since taking office in March, Premier Li signed a memorandum of understanding after concluding negotiations on the bilateral agreement with Swiss President Ueli Maurer.

"The China-Switzerland FTA is one of the highest level and the most comprehensive FTAs that China has signed," Gao said.

Once the FTA is ratified, Switzerland agrees to remove tariffs on up to 99.7 percent of Chinese exports and China will exempt tariffs on 84.2 percent of Swiss exports.

The FTA will also provide a platform for the two countries to enhance cooperation in industries including watch-making and traditional Chinese medicine.

For the first time, the pact also included new issues, such as government procurement, environment, labor cooperation and intellectual property rights and competition.

Currently, China has signed FTAs with 10 economies and is in talks with six others, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Premier Li said China welcomes all talks on free trade pacts with other EU countries.

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