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Switzerland And South Africa Kick Off High Level Consultations

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

29 May 2008

Michael Ambühl, the Swiss State Secretary of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday received the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa, Aziz Pahad, for official talks on a variety of topics, including economic relations.

The meeting was the first high-level consultation between South Africa and Switzerland since the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on strengthening mutual cooperation in Geneva on 8th March, 2008.

Ambühl and his South African counterpart welcomed the closer cooperation and relations between the two countries were described as "excellent".

The MoU offers Switzerland and South Africa the institutional framework they need to develop the full range of bilateral relations.

This includes, in addition to political dialogue, relations on economic matters, trade, development, human rights, democracy, peace and security, migration, science and technology, cultural affairs and international issues.

Development issues were one of the topics of the talks in Bern. Switzerland is supporting programmes in South Africa that aim to consolidate democracy and reduce economic disparities.

The parties agreed to consolidate the trilateral cooperation in Central Africa, in particular in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Sudan.

The Swiss State Secretary also addressed the subject of Switzerland's association with the Schengen Area and the effects of this for South Africa.

Switzerland and South Africa are currently negotiating an agreement to exempt official and diplomatic passports from visa requirements.

South Africa is Switzerland's most important trade partner in Africa, with a bilateral trade volume of around CHF1.85bn (USD1.77bn).

On 1st May 2008, an EFTA free-trade agreement with the South African Customs Union came into force, to the benefit of trade for both countries.

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