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Ample opportunity for growth

TO GET an overview of the business relations between Switzerland and Slovakia, The Slovak Spectator turned to Claude-André Barbey, the business attaché at the Swiss Embassy in Slovakia.

LIKE the Swiss, Slovaks aspire to market their natural wonders.
photo: TASR

TO GET an overview of the business relations between Switzerland and Slovakia, The Slovak Spectator turned to Claude-André Barbey, the business attaché at the Swiss Embassy in Slovakia. According to Barbey, Swiss and Slovaks alike would benefit from further cooperation in certain sectors, such as construction and pharmaceuticals. He acknowledged that Slovakia sees Switzerland as a role model when it comes to tourism, and said that his country is happy to share its experience. In fact, many Slovaks are attending tourism school in Switzerland.


Switzerland has a great deal of know-how and experience in tourism, which is why many people believe that Slovakia should look to Switzerland to see how to turn the country into a popular tourist destination. Barbey says that Switzerland is already contributing to the growth of tourism in Slovakia.

"There are quite a number of Slovaks who are passing their traineeship in Switzerland. I think an intensification of this kind of exchange could further contribute to the development of the tourism industry in Slovakia, whose beautiful landscapes and many attractive sights are certainly worth investments," Barbey said.

At the same time, the attaché told The Slovak Spectator that there is still much room for improvement. He emphasized that Slovakia must modernize its infrastructure and improve its services before it can expect to be successful as a tourist destination. Having a few good hotels and restaurants, he says, is not enough.

Certain Swiss characteristics are behind the country's success in tourism. According to Barbey, Swiss people are time sensitive and very clean, which gives them a natural advantage in the field. "The tourist is very demanding when it comes to services: punctuality, rapidity and cleanliness are paramount. Slovaks have a different approach toward time, for example," he said.


Barbey says that Swiss companies specializing in engineering, consulting and construction could be particularly important to Slovak businesses involved in infrastructure development.

While big Swiss chemical and pharmaceutical companies are already present on the Slovak market, Barbey believes there is room to further intensify the cooperation.

"I see still very few small- and medium- enterprises from Switzerland on the Slovak market. They do not seem to have discovered it yet," Barbey pointed out.

He added that Switzerland has an excellent reputation in the machine-tool industry, and that Slovak businesses are showing interest.

The EU factor

Switzerland is not an EU member country while Slovakia recently celebrated its one-year anniversary as part of the European Union. According to Barbey, the fact that Switzerland and Slovakia are not European Union colleagues should not weaken the cooperation between them; on the contrary, it simply represents a mutual challenge.

Barbey expects the relationship between Switzerland and Slovakia will develop even further if Switzerland approves the free movement of workers between Switzerland and the 10 new EU member countries.

"To attract the attention of Slovakia demands more effort on our part since we are not members of the EU. If in autumn of this year Swiss people vote in favour of the free movement of workers, this will increase our economic exchange as well as the exchange of workers," the attaché told the Spectator. This new agreement would put Switzerland on the same level as EU countries for all practical purposes.

Possible barriers to trade

Barbey admitted that there are some issues that sometimes hinder quick cooperation and can slow down investment decisions. The lack of infrastructure is one of them, as well as administrative obstacles in Slovakia.

"Additionally, I am afraid that corruption is still an impediment for business activities despite all the efforts undertaken to fight these harmful practices," he said.

Despite hurdles, Barbey remains optimistic about future Slovak/Swiss contacts.

"Personally, I would like to say that Slovaks have enough self-confidence, are open and have a bright future ahead of them. I therefore think that all efforts undertaken to prepare Slovakia and Slovaks for a knowledge-based economy are justified and will attract investments in these highly developed sectors," Barbey summarized.

Slovak/Swiss foreign trade

Pharmaceutical products dominate Swiss exports to Slovakia (31.1 percent). They are followed by machine tools (23.4 percent), synthetics (11.4 percent), and chemical products (8.4 percent).
Cars and planes represent approximately 46 percent of Swiss imports from Slovakia. Machines share 16.3 percent and textile products 9.7 percent. Numbers in tables are expressed in millions of euros.

  2001 2002 2003 2004
Swiss exports to Slovakia 166.4 169.3 184.2 189
Swiss imports Swiss imports from Slovakia 201.5 181.5 199.3 192

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