Switzerland’s efforts to refresh its free trade agreement with China have stalled as Bern takes a more critical view of Beijing’s human rights record, Swiss newspapers reported on Sunday.
Switzerland and China signed a free trade agreement in 2013, Beijing’s first such deal with an economy in continental Europe. The move was styled as a mutually beneficial agreement with the aim of contributing to the increase in trade between the two economies.
For the latest headlines, follow our Google News Channel online or through the app,
Switzerland is attempting to expand the tariff cuts to more Swiss products and update the agreement to include sustainability features. However, Beijing is not involved in the effort, the newspapers said.
Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said in a statement to the newspaper Sonntagsblick: “So far it has not been possible to agree on a general list of subjects that should be explored more deeply.”
“The Sino-Swiss FTA is a mutually beneficial agreement, not a gift from one party to the other,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said when asked to respond about the halt to talks over human rights concerns.
“China hopes that Switzerland can exclude any man-made interference and work with China to move forward in the same direction,” Zhao said at a regular press briefing.
Under the title “Chinese standoff”, NZZ am Sonntag said Switzerland has become more critical of China’s human rights record.
A Swiss parliamentary initiative recently passed by the National Council’s Legal Affairs Committee condemned the forced labor of Uighurs in northwest China as “a real problem”.
Western states and rights groups accused the Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uighurs and other minorities in the camps. Beijing denies the allegations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.
Jean-Philippe Kohl, head of economic policy at industry association Swissmem, told NZZ am Sonntag that Switzerland should follow quiet diplomacy over China’s human rights record.
“If we, as a small economy, constantly point a reprimanded finger at China, nothing will change except that relations will eventually break down,” he told the newspaper.
Read more: Switzerland rebukes China over human rights but backs down on investment curbs