A year after the visit by Singapore's president Tony Tan, Mr Burkhalter held political talks in Singapore with representatives of the city state. His meetings with Singapore's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and foreign minister, Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, focused on the first concrete outcomes and the further implementation of the Declaration of Enhanced Partnership which Mr Burkhalter had signed as president of the Swiss Confederation in May 2014 in Bern with President Tony Tan. Since then cooperation has intensified in the financial sector. Switzerland and Singapore launched a dialogue on finance on 24 April 2015, which will be held at regular intervals in future.
Furthermore, as a result of the bilateral declaration Singapore is facilitating access to work experience in the city state for young Swiss nationals. Mr Burkhalter invited Singapore to Bern for a next round of political consultations in the autumn of this year. He also suggested a regular dialogue on security matters as another potential area for enhanced cooperation, in addition to research, education, innovation and business. In today's meeting with Foreign Minister Shanmugam he also spoke about aspects of cooperative security in Asia.
In addition, he mentioned in his discussions with his interlocutors various initiatives and candidatures launched or supported by Switzerland. These include the Montreux document, which reaffirms states' international legal obligations regarding private military and security companies deployed in armed conflict; the joint initiative by Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law; and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) in whose establishment Switzerland was instrumental, which supports local initiatives to prevent violent extremism among groups at risk. Mr Burkhalter also spoke of the candidacy of the Swiss climate expert Thomas Stocker for the chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
On the subject of Switzerland's intention to also strengthen cooperation with Asian partners at the regional level, Mr Burkhalter further informed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam of Switzerland's application to become a development partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Switzerland submitted its application to the ASEAN Chair on 28 May in Malaysia. Mr Burkhalter gave his discussion partners in Singapore a copy of the letter.
Most important trading partner in Southeast Asia
Singapore is Switzerland's most important trading partner in Southeast Asia. The signing of a free trade agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Singapore in 2003 – the first with an Asian country – resulted in a sharp increase in trade between the two countries. In 2013, the trade volume between Switzerland and Singapore reached CHF 5 billion. Direct investments from Switzerland in 2013 totalled CHF 22 billion, making Switzerland Singapore's fifth biggest investor after the United States, the Netherlands, Japan and the United Kingdom. Some 350 Swiss companies employ approximately 20,000 people in Singapore. Swissnex Singapore has been providing support for the last ten years to Swiss universities and research institutes, as well as companies with branches in Singapore to promote exchanges in science and technology in the research and innovation sector. Today 10 of Switzerland's 12 universities are working with a university or polytechnic in Singapore.
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