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Free trade agreement with India: “Switzerland has done a great job”

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Free trade agreement with India: “Switzerland has done a great job”

Faster than the EU and Great Britain: Swiss Economy Minister Guy Parmelin (2nd from left) and his Indian counterpart Pyiush Goyal (center) agree on a free trade deal end of January in Bombay. X (Twitter)

“Switzerland should become a gateway for India through which it can market its products throughout Europe”: this is what American political scientist Parag Khanna says in an interview on the free trade agreement between Switzerland and India. It also assesses the evolution of migration in the world.

This content was published on February 9, 2024 – 2:00 p.m. February 9, 2024 – 2:00 p.m.

Renat Kuenzi

Studies history and political science at the University of Bern. Previously worked at Reuters, the Bund, the Berner Zeitung and Radio Förderband. Strongly interested in the exercise of modern direct democracy in Switzerland, in all its forms and at all levels, with citizens always at the center of attention.

Indian-American political scientist Parag Khanna was present at the last World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. The opportunity for swissinfo.ch to speak with him about migration and the recently announced free trade agreement between India and Switzerland.

swissinfo.ch: In your latest book Move, published in 2021, you paint a picture of immense global human flows due to climate change, demographics and conflicts. As destination regions you see huge uninhabited areas in the north, such as Canada, northern Europe, Siberia and Central Asia. Can Switzerland, for which migration has been one of the hottest topics in domestic politics for more than 50 years, therefore relax?

Parag Khanna: When it comes to immigration, Switzerland is very self-confident, it has sovereign control of its borders vis-à-vis third countries and it is very selective. Among those who came to Switzerland, there are also many people from Asia, who have since assimilated well and who make an important contribution to the Swiss economy.

Parag Khanna is an Indian-American political scientist and author specializing in geopolitics and international relations. Keystone

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Given the cumulative megatrends of climate change, migration, geopolitical conflicts and civil wars, people from Asia will increasingly come to Europe. Just like people from Arab and African countries.

Even if this is politically delicate or if it is criticized for not acting with sufficient generosity and mercy, Switzerland must of course ensure its own stability. It is already doing this – with free trade agreements and closer trade relations with talent-rich states. For example with Asian countries.

Isn’t your vision of a populated Siberia a bit adventurous, given the thawing of permafrost or the deforestation of immense forests that the Earth needs as “green lungs”?

In my book, I documented that the movement of people from Asia to the north has already begun. So it’s not science fiction. Of course, there are barriers like politics, national borders, geographic distance or costs. The northern latitudes are one of them. But a growing number of people from India, Pakistan and other countries have already emigrated to Siberia and Central Asia, for example to Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan.

I’ve been traveling to these countries for 30 years, and every time I go, I don’t just see seasonal workers helping in the agricultural sector. We see a lot of people of Asian origin working in construction, as English teachers, opticians or cooks in canteens and hotels.

President Putin, who is certainly not a friend of foreigners, already concluded an agreement with Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2018, which allows the regional exchange of people with certain skills between Russia and India. It is therefore already an established fact that more and more people from Asia are entering Russian territory. Romania and Greece have also recently concluded such agreements with India. It is therefore a question of compensating for the lack of labor due to demographic imbalances.

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How important is the free trade agreement that Switzerland and the three other EFTA countries agreed with India?

Switzerland has done a great job, because the free trade agreement is a major success in terms of foreign trade and diplomacy. Unlike the European Union and Great Britain, Switzerland took action. The EU and Great Britain are certainly talking to India and have visited there. But they failed to reach such an agreement.

Switzerland now has a head start, which I find very smart. Indeed, it should become a gateway for India, in order to be able to market Indian products of constantly improving quality throughout Europe.

External content

Guy Parmelin’s trip to India in the RTS Téléjournal of January 21, 2024

Swiss industry will also benefit from this success: demand for its cutting-edge technologies will increase, because India will be the next China. But to do this, it must continue to significantly improve the standards of industrial production processes. India can do this by importing advanced technologies from Switzerland and Germany.

Does this success of Swiss foreign economic policy have repercussions on the diplomatic field, where Switzerland wants to organize a peace conference on Ukraine this year, involving India?

No. Certainly, there should be cooperation in other areas. But as far as the peace conference is concerned, the answer is clearly no.

Why be so categorical?

India has its own interests which it wishes to defend in its foreign policy. She strongly strengthened her relations with Russia and began close cooperation with Vladimir Putin. When it comes to energy market policy and agenda in Asia, India is pursuing its own strategy.

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What other cooperations do you consider possible?

Student exchange at universities and polytechnics is still very important. In Europe, the Erasmus program has been a huge success. Compare this with the US-China exchange: the total number of US students in China has dropped to around 200 due to strained relations between the two countries.

Given the close collaboration between India and Russia, is there a viable common basis between India and Switzerland? Russia openly fights human rights, individual freedoms and democracy.

Yes of course. The common ground certainly exists first and foremost on the functional level, that is to say on the desired strengthening of technological exchanges. But when Indian students, teachers and specialists in technical fields come to Switzerland to learn, it leads, as we said, to stronger personal and family ties. These in turn have a positive effect on the common good.

This is how a relationship of trust can be established between the two societies through exchanges, as has happened very markedly between India and the United States. I am American myself with Indian roots and family in India.

Text reread and verified by Benjamin von Wyl, translated from German by Olivier Pauchard

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