Come together: China and Switzerland forge new opportunities for innovation along the One Belt One Road

Summary: Switzerland has an outsized impact on global affairs and possesses one of the most competitive and innovative economies in the world. It was also one of the first countries to align with China’s One Belt One Road initiatives. The recent 4th Sino Swiss Economic Forum helps cement and signal the important role Switzerland will play in China’s drive for innovation-based growth and Eurasian connectivity.

The author with Jean-Jacques DE DARDEL, The Ambassador of Switzerland to the People’s Republic of China at 4th Sino Swiss Economic Forum

The Sino Swiss Economic Forum is a bi-annual event that is the largest bi-lateral economic summit between these two countries. The fourth edition of this high level event, held at the Rosewood Hotel in Beijing on Friday, April 9, welcomed a delegation led by Johann Schneider-Ammann, Swiss Federation President, with high level discussions focused on innovation-driven growth through connectivity with an emphasis on infrastructure, finance and technology.

With a population of 8.2 million covering about 16,000 square miles, Switzerland is not a large country. However, it boasts one of the world’s most advanced and wealthiest economies. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland’s economy as the most competitive in the world, while it is also ranked by the European Union as Europe’s most innovative country. As a result, Switzerland has long had an outsized impact on global affairs. In some key ways, Switzerland is the nerve center for Europe and even the world with decisions taken there achieving rapid effects globally. Major companies and organizations in Switzerland include:

  • ABB, one of the largest engineering companies as well as one of the largest conglomerates in the world with operations in approximately 100 countries and 135,000 employees. It reported global revenue of $35.5 billion for 2015
  • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a humanitarian institution based in Geneva, Switzerland, that is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is the oldest and most prestigious organization within the Movement and one of the most widely recognized organizations in the world, having won three Nobel Peace Prizes in 1917, 1944, and 1963.
  • Nestle, a global food and beverage company headquartered in Vevey, Vaud. It is the largest food company in the world measured by revenues, and ranked #72 on the Fortune Global 500 in 2014
  • Syngenta AG, a global agribusiness that produces agrochemicals and seeds. It was formed in 2000 by the merger of Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals. As of 2014 Syngenta was the world’s largest crop chemical producer. Sales in 2015 were approximately US$13.4 billion with more than half coming from emerging markets.
  • UBS AG, a global financial services company, incorporated in Zurich. The company provides wealth management, asset management, and investment banking services for private, corporate, and institutional clients worldwide with almost US$2 trillion in assets under management
  • World Economic Forum, a nonprofit foundation, based in Geneva. It is best known for its annual winter meeting in Davos, which brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals, and journalists to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world.

Panelists included Mr. Hongzhang Wang, Chairman of China Construction Bank Corporation; Mr. Peter Voser, Chairman of ABB; Mr. Meng Mei, Chairman of TusHoldings; and Mr. Christoph Mader, Head of Legal & Taxes, Syngenta International. Despite an uncertain overall economic outlook, the panelists expressed confidence in the opportunities for cooperation between China and Switzerland in the areas of financial services, infrastructure and technology under the overall rubric of One Belt One Road.

In particular, Hongzhang Wang, noted the opportunities for China Construction Bank to further accelerate both process and product innovation in the financial services sector, especially through cooperation with its Swiss counterparts. He also noted that while technological advances such as robotics and AI (artificial intelligence) has reduced the number of call center staff required at his bank many of these employees have been redeployed to retail branches to provide a higher touch customer service experience. As such, these labor replacing technologies may not have as large an impact on employment as some observers fear.

Overall, the synergies between China and Switzerland plus the clear-eyed diplomatic and economic development strategies pursued by Switzerland bode well for Sino-Swiss relations and present worthwhile economic opportunities for those businesses and other organizations able and willing to contribute to these initiatives.

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