China and Switzerland has started free trade agreement (FTA) talks, an official with the Swiss Embassy to China said Monday.
"The FTA talks have officially kicked off. This is a great step forward for the two parties," said Sun Xiaolan, assistant to the Commerce Department of the Swiss Embassy to China.
On August 10, Swiss President, Doris Leuthard started a five-day working visit to China to promote bilateral economic relations, as the two states celebrate their 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties.
Sun did not disclose details of the talks, but told the Global Times Switzerland will soon be the first European country to conclude an FTA with China, as it was with Japan in 2009.
"We're nearing a historic day," said Leuthard.
As one of the first Western countries to forge diplomatic relations with China, Switzerland is China's ninth largest European trade partner, while China is Switzerland's fourth largest global trade partner.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, bilateral trade between China and Switzerland topped $11.3 billion in 2008, and slightly dropped to $10.18 billion in 2009, with $5.28 billion of Swiss exports and $4.9 billion imports from China.
In the first half of this year, bilateral trade jumped 127 percent and China's imports from Switzerland increased 180 percent compared to the same time last year.
"The two states should also boost cooperation in finance, education, culture, environmental protection, tourism and international affairs," said Leuthard.
The Chineseside is also interested in discussing financial services, focusing on cooperation between the supervisory authorities and the central banks.
"The FTA agreement will lead to clear savings in Swiss exports to China," the Swissinfo quoted Kurt Haerri, president of the Switzerland-China chamber of commerce as saying. "On average we would save 10 percent in import duties."
"China-Switzerland relations are at a new starting point," President Hu Jintao told Leuthard during their meeting in Beijing last week.