China and Switzerland agreed on Monday to speed up talks to upgrade their free trade agreement and to simplify visa procedures for travel between the two countries, Chinese state media reported.
Bern and Beijing agreed to an early launch of formal negotiations to expand a free trade agreement in place since 2013, state news agency Xinhua reported.
China also agreed to provide visa-free entry for Swiss citizens, it said.
The agreements were reached during the first high-level meeting between the two countries since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heading the Chinese delegation was Prime Minister Li Qiang, who was met by Swiss President and Defence Minister Viola Amherd when he arrived at Zurich airport on Sunday.
And he was granted military honours as Monday’s meeting kicked off at the Lohn Estate near Bern — a rare, high-level welcome rolled out for the highest-ranking Chinese representative to visit Switzerland since President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2017.
Swiss Economy Minister Guy Parmelin also took part in Monday’s talks, as did Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, the governor of the Peoples Bank of China and high-ranking representatives from other ministries, including Deputy Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu.
The Swiss government said in a statement that the two sides “discussed the deep and wide-ranging bilateral relations characterised by dialogue on around 30 issues, as well as a range of current international affairs”.
The two countries also discussed the planned resumption this year of dialogue between their foreign ministries, due to touch on issues including development cooperation and human rights.
China has been Switzerland’s most important trading partner in Asia since 2010 and is its third most important trading partner globally, after the European Union and the United States.
The two sides signed a joint declaration following a study on how to further develop their free trade agreement, Bern said, hailing this as “an important step towards the start of possible negotiations”.