© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Workers place a Swiss (left) and Chinese flag at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing on January 15, 2016. Photo: Mark Schiffelbein/Reuters
GENEVA (Reuters) – Switzerland’s efforts to renew a free trade agreement with China have faltered, Swiss newspapers reported on Sunday, as Bern takes a more critical view of Beijing’s human rights record.
Switzerland and China signed a free trade agreement in 2013, the first such agreement between Beijing and an economy in continental Europe. The move is designed as a mutually beneficial agreement aimed at contributing to increased trade between the two economies.
Switzerland tried to update the deal to extend the tariff cuts to more Swiss products and add sustainability features to the deal. However, newspapers said Beijing is not interfering.
“Until now, it has not been possible to agree on a common list of topics that should be deepened,” the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs told the Sunday newspaper.
Switzerland has become more critical of China’s human rights record, said the newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, with the headline “China’s dead end”.
A Swiss parliamentary initiative endorsed by the National Council’s Legal Committee denounced forced labor of Uyghurs in northwest China as a “real problem”.
Western countries and human rights groups have accused Xinjiang authorities of detaining Uyghurs and other minorities in camps and torturing them. Beijing denies the allegations and describes the camps as vocational training centers to combat religious extremism.
Jean-Philippe Cole, head of economic policy at the Swissmem Industrial Association, told NZZ am Sonntag that Switzerland should engage in quiet diplomacy over China’s human rights record.
“If we, as a small economy, are constantly pointing the finger at China, nothing will change but relations will eventually collapse,” he told the newspaper.