On November 10, 2020, Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, the head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), held a virtual discussion with the ASEAN Secretary General, six ministers of economic affairs and four vice ministers and state secretaries of ASEAN countries. It was the first time that such an exchange had taken place and was intended to identify possible areas of economic cooperation.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional grouping consisting of Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. The region is continuing to grow in importance and has great potential for growth. Southeast Asia is also becoming an increasingly important market for Swiss businesses in terms of exports and investment. In 2019 the volume of trade between Switzerland and the ASEAN states amounted to around CHF 25.4 billion. According to figures provided by the Swiss National Bank, Swiss businesses have invested a total of CHF 40 billion in ASEAN countries to date.
One of the main topics of discussion during the dialogue with ASEAN was the possible impact of the coronavirus on the world economy. Mr Parmelin stressed that Switzerland was committed to open markets and international cooperation. Other topics of common interest included the digital transformation of the economy, the promotion of SMEs, sustainable tourism and the development of infrastructure. The discussions also turned to free trade policy. Switzerland, together with its EFTA partners, has a free trade agreement with ASEAN members Singapore and the Philippines. A further agreement with Indonesia has already been adopted by Parliament. Negotiations are ongoing with Viet Nam and Malaysia. On behalf of EFTA, Mr Parmelin put forward a proposal to deepen and formalise relations with ASEAN in the form of a declaration on cooperation.