Efforts by Bern to refresh free trade agreement with China have hit roadblocks stemming from China’s dismal human rights record.
In 2013, both countries had signed a free trade agreement, marking Beijing’s first such deal with an economy in continental Europe. The agreement was styled as a mutually beneficial pact aimed at contributing to increased trade between the two economies.
While Switzerland has been trying to update the accord to extend tariff reductions to more Swiss products as well as to include sustainability features, Beijing is stalling.
“So far it has not been possible to agree on a common list of topics that should be explored in greater depth,” said Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) in a statement.
Recently, Switzerland’s Legal Affairs Committee had denounced the usage of forced labour of Uyghurs in northwest China as “a real problem”.
Many countries and human rights groups have accused China of detaining torturing Uyghurs, as well as other minorities in modern concentration camps in Xinjiang. Beijing has termed these camps as vocational training facilities aimed at combating religious extremism.
“If we, as a small economy, constantly point the finger of rebuke at China, nothing will change, except that relations will eventually break down,” said Jean-Philippe Kohl, head of economic policy at industry association Swissmem.