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China, Switzerland agree to begin feasibility study on free trade zone

CHINA and Switzerland decided yesterday to begin a joint feasibility study on creating a bilateral free trade zone in the second half of this year as part of their efforts to tackle the challenges of the global financial crisis.

During talks in the Swiss capital, visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President of the Swiss Confederation Hans-Rudolf Merz exchanged views and briefed each other on the policies and measures China and Switzerland have taken regarding the crisis.

The two leaders agreed that it was an urgent task for the two countries to work more closely together to tide over the difficulties.

The feasibility study on a free trade zone was one of the measures the two nations agreed to take. Other measures included deepening financial cooperation, expanding trade and investment, opposing trade protectionism, and promoting reform of the international financial system.

China and Switzerland will also boost joint work in technology, energy, environmental protection, as well as in the medical and cultural sectors.

The Chinese premier, who arrived here earlier in the day for an official visit to Switzerland, said during the talks with Merz that the political mutual trust between China and Switzerland had been deepened and bilateral cooperation had been fruitful since the two nations set up diplomatic ties 59 years ago.

Wen said China values the traditional friendship with Switzerland and was ready to promote high-level exchanges and expand cooperation based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.

Officials from China's Commerce Ministry said Switzerland was now China's 11th largest trading partner and sixth largest source of investment in Europe.

Last year, Swiss investment in China totaled US$240 million, and two-way trade amounted to US$11.2 billion, with Chinese exports to Switzerland valued at US$3.9 billion and imports from Switzerland at US$7.3 billion, the officials said.

Yesterday, China and Switzerland also signed an agreement on promoting and protecting investment.

At the talks, Merz expressed Switzerland's admiration for China's achievements in its reform and opening up, saying he believed China had an even brighter prospect for further growth.

Switzerland hoped to strengthen its political dialogue and practical cooperation with China, he said.

In Switzerland, Wen will also attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he is expected to give a speech today to elaborate on measures China has taken to deal with the financial crisis.

Switzerland is the first leg of Wen's European tour, which will also take him to Germany, the European Union headquarters, Spain and Britain.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hongbo has characterized Wen's tour as a "trip of confidence," saying it will set out China's determination to stick to reform and opening up, boost economic development, deepen China-EU cooperation and join hands with the international community to tide over the financial crisis.


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