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Swiss state secretary for economic affairs Helene Budliger Artieda, in an interview with TOI, talks about European Free Trade Association’s agreement with India. Excerpts:

What are the big gains for Switzerland on goods and services?

The key thing is access on goods, and we have got an offer which surpasses 95% of the trade value with India. We have given India over 99% coverage. We didn’t get everything that we wanted but we are quite happy. Gold and cheese are among the items that are not there.

Initially itself, we agreed that it must be a balanced deal and we are not going to touch each other’s sensitivities. Dairy and gold were two things that Mr (Piyush) Goyal mentioned as sensitive when I first came to India. Gold is not mined in Switzerland. We have refineries, which are important for creating jobs and taxes, but have a small share of GDP. That was easy to let go, but cheese was tougher. This is our first FTA where we didn’t get anything on cheese. Given the small size of Indian farms and cattle holdings in India, you can’t push very hard. We are very excited about the market access we have got for our machinery, precision tools, watches, pharma, life sciences and chemicals. We do not compete in price and volumes; we are strategic partners.

What about services and visas?

It is all about creating legal services. There is a commitment on visas, on business visas, inter-corporate visas and visas for independent professionals. We are also allowing spouses on inter-corporate transfers, which is a first. We also have a provision on recognition of professional diplomas, although we couldn’t go as far as India wanted. In services, India has received the best that Switzerland can provide.

How will the $100 billion investment commitment work?


It had to be a balanced deal, that’s why we came for this investment pledge, which is linked to market access. We will monitor the progress although it will be investment by the private sector. We will not do it every year as we need to give it some time. We have looked at our (earlier) FTAs, once we signed an agreement, FDI went up exponentially. If the investment goals are not met, India can unilaterally and partially dial back certain access of goods.

Is bilateral investment protection agreement part of the text?

It’s not in the text but it’s a long-standing wish and that’s something investors look at. Hopefully, we will be able to do it after elections (in India).

Were intellectual property rights one of the sensitive issues given that several Swiss companies have cited that as a restrictive issue?

IPR goes well beyond pharma. Switzerland registered the most patents per capita and many of them are related to machinery or watches. For us, IPR is a bread-and-butter issue. We have agreed that there will be commitments, but the chapter will not be beyond what India has committed at WTO under TRIPS. Switzerland believes that access to health is a human right. Swiss govt is also concerned about the cost of medicines and there is space for generic drugs even in Switzerland. You also need innovative medicine which requires large investments and they need to be protected. We are for a strong IPR chapter.

So, is the commitment in the IPR chapter limited to India’s commitment under TRIPS?

We managed to agree on something called ‘working the patent’ because pharma is a complex industry. Working the patent means you can import the drug and we have been able to agree. India has a unique system of pre-grant opposition, we have been able to agree to stop abusive pre-grant opposition so that it is not like a technical barrier.

How much role did geopolitics play in the deal?

It did play a role but India has been on the wish list of Swiss companies for more than 16 years. The interest has massively increased due to geopolitics and the pandemic has shown that Swiss companies want to diversify the supply chain instead of manufacturing in one country. When I meet Swiss business people, looking at their supply chains, if India plays its cards well, will attract a lot of interest.

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