Swiss President begins India visit, pays homage at Rajghat

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-ReyNew Delhi, Nov.7 : Visiting Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey was given a ceremonial welcome in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning at the start of a four day state visit to India which is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in areas like energy, climate change, science and technology, besides  trade and investment.

Ms Calmy Rey was received by her Indian counterpart Pratibha Devisingh Patil and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. She was accorded a ceremonial guard of honour and was introduced to members of the Indian Cabinet. The Swiss delegation accompanying her was also introduced to the Indian side before the visitng dignitary left to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, at Rajghat.

Ms Calmy-Rey will have talks with the President Patil and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. She will also hold talks with Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and meet UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition, L.K. Advani.

The visit of the Swiss President to India follows a visit to Switzerland by President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in May 2005. The visit is also a part of the high-level dialogue between India and Switzerland in the last few years.

The focus of Monday's bilateral meetings is likely to be on trade and ways to enhance it from the present figure of 2.25 billion dollars in 2006 (excluding bullion --- 2.48 billion in 2004; and software services---100 million in 2004). There is still, however, further potential to grow, said an official release.

Over the ten-year period between 1995 and 2005, the two-way bilateral commodity trade has nearly doubled. During the first six months of 2007, India's exports to Switzerland grew by 28.5 per cent, while Swiss exports to India grew by 32.5 per cent over the same period in 2006.

The total bilateral trade in the first six months of 2007, grew by 31.3 per cent to CHF 1625.5 million. If this trend continues, the bilateral trade could cross USD 3 billion by the end of 2007, which would represent an increase of nearly a billion dollars in just one year.

President Micheline Calmy-Rey is in the Indian capital after undertaking visits to Hyderabad and Agra. The bilateral visit takes place as the two countries would be observing 2008 as the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship (14 August 1948). The bilateral visit would serve to highlight the progress in partnership the two countries have made over the past six decades and highlight the opportunities for the future.

“We are now looking at the whole range of political, economical and technological development,” says Ms Calmy-Rey when asked about the future of ties with India. We are committed to reorient our long-standing development activities in India...Exchange of know-how in fields such as energy, climate and environment are promising ways to focus on in the near future,” she emphasised prior to her visit.

The Swiss President’s visit will look at strengthening current ties, seeking new partnerships and creating a fresh image of Switzerland for the benefit of decisionmakers in India, particularly politicians.

Her visit will mark the beginning of the jubilee celebrations of a communion between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy. One needn’t look any further for proof of this bond than the Swiss currency note. The 10 CHF (Swiss Franc) note carries on one side a portrait of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier and an image of Chandigarh on the reverse side.

An Indo-Swiss joint statement is expected to be released after the leaders meet, Indian officials said.

The two sides are expected to discuss the feasibility of an economic agreement similar to a free trade agreement covering goods, services, investments, intellectual property and trade facilitation during the Swiss president's visit.

India is the fourth-largest trading partner for Switzerland in Asia.

Switzerland is also one of the 10 main foreign investors in India, with more than 140 joint ventures operating in the Asian country. Both countries also have a scientific and technical cooperation agreement as well as joint research programmes for projects in life sciences, information technologies and biotechnology.

Switzerland has had a programme on cooperation and development with India since 1961. This programme is being restructured to orient it towards cooperation primarily in the fields of energy and climate, science and technology by 2010.

A series of events and projects have been planned for 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the treaty. (ANI)