China, Switzerland sign free trade agreement

China, Switzerland sign free trade agreement

BEIJING - China and Switzerland on Saturday signed a free trade agreement (FTA) - Beijing's first in continental Europe - in a deal that comes against a backdrop of trade tensions between the Asian giant and the European Union (EU).

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng and Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann inked the accord in a ceremony at the Commerce Ministry in Beijing before officials and reporters.

Afterwards, they clinked glasses of champagne in celebration of the agreement, which aims to liberalise trade in goods and services and increase the US$26.3 billion (S$33.7 billion) in bilateral commerce they rang up in 2012.

China in April signed its first FTA with a European country - non-EU member Iceland - but Saturday's deal marks the first with an economy in mainland Europe.

Gao, at a post-signing press conference with Schneider-Ammann, said the agreement would promote trade cooperation with Europe in general.

"China should launch similar cooperation with other countries in Europe, even the European Union," he added, signalling China's desire for an FTA with the 28-nation bloc.

Switzerland ranked as the world's 19th-largest economy in 2012, according to the World Bank. China is the world's second-biggest.

"This free trade agreement has an important significance for the relationship between the two countries," Schneider-Ammann told AFP after Saturday's signing ceremony.

He noted that China is the world's single biggest developing market with a growing middle-class.

Fiercely independent Switzerland is not a member of the EU and even waited decades to join the United Nations.

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