Finncham interviewed H.E. Heinrich Maurer, Swiss Ambassador to Finland
Switzerland ranks as the most competitive nation in the world, followed by the United States and Singapore. How Switzerland has been able to maintain this position for nine years without any interruptions?
I would only like to mention a few possible reasons. Reliable and reasonable politics, a wide-spread awareness that average is not sufficient, a trustful relationship between employees and employers, first-class infrastructure and education system are the basis of Switzerland’s top ranking.
How Switzerland as a small country like Finland has benefited from the free trade agreements it has signed with other countries?
It is deep-rooted in both countries that especially smaller countries are much better off in an open economy with low custom tariffs and few technical trade barriers. Foreign trade is of fundamental importance for Switzerland’s prosperity. Its foreign trade has doubled since 1990 in the newest wave of globalization. 70 cents of every Swiss Franc are earned in foreign trade of goods and services. Switzerland signed in 1972 a free trade agreement with the European Union, its by far most important economic partner. My country has been since 2004 to a large degree also part of the EU internal market system with free movement of persons, goods and services. Due to the stalemate in WTO negotiations Switzerland has extended its free trade agreement network worldwide. It has free trade agreements with more than 70 countries. Switzerland was the first country in continental Europe which concluded a free-trade agreement with China in 2014.
Switzerland has a good reputation as an attractive location for businesses – please, tell us how the 26 cantons attract foreign companies to their regions – any examples?
Indeed, due to Switzerland’s federal structure there are not one but several trade and investment promotion agencies in Switzerland. They are in an open but fair competition among each other which also contributes to the attractiveness of the different economic regions. The final decision of a foreign company to settle down in Switzerland depends on many factors. Google may have decided to build up its European headquarter in Zurich due to the concentration of excellent universities and the attractive living conditions. Companies in life science and clean technology often decide to settle down in the Geneva - Lausanne area because of a strong cluster there.
Switzerland is also known as a financial center. What are the main trends in the banking sector today?
Switzerland has adapted in the last years its regulation regarding the banking secrecy to OECD standards and established the automatic exchange of information system. Swiss banks are also affected by the increasing regulation in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. Another trend is digitalization (e.g. Fin-Tech). Although Switzerland has still a performing financial center, I sometimes get the impression that its role is overestimated bearing in mind that the banking sector contributes to around 6% of Swiss GDP compared to around 20% of the industry sector (pharmaceutical, machinery, watchmaking etc.). Not many people know that Switzerland successfully avoided deindustrialization in the last decades contrary to many European states. Switzerland is the most industrialized country when you compare the industrial output per capita.
Please, tell us which kinds of business opportunities Finnish companies would have in Switzerland?
Switzerland lies in the heart of Europe and has as neighbours strong economic regions as Baden-Wurttemberg in the North, the Lyon region in the West and Lombardy in the South. My country is linked with these areas through a good traffic infrastructure. Switzerland has four national languages and a diverse population which facilitates the exchange with foreign partners. I see for example additional business opportunities for Finnish companies in the field of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) - digitalization, internet of things etc. - in which our two countries are front-runners. Also in Medtech there is certainly room for expansion.
H.E. Heinrich Maurer, Swiss Ambassador to Finland interviewed by Anne Hatanpää