Opinions - 29.01.2013 - 00:00 

Charm offensive in Burma

The Federal Council’s charm offensive in Burma reveals the government’s interest in Asian networks. An economic exchange would strengthen Burma’s middle class and offer opportunities for both countries, writes Roger Moser.<br/>


29 January 2013. Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation in Asia for how it organises trade and industry and public administration. “Made in Switzerland”, “Swiss Quality” and Swiss brands are highly regarded on the Asian continent, which is an important advantage for Switzerland in comparison with European competitors. This does not only apply to China, Japan and India but also to smaller Asian countries, in which the Swiss export economy can continue to experience strong growth in the next few years.

Networks for the export economy
The example of Burma shows that the Federal Council intends to make a substantial contribution towards the establishment and maintenance of important networks in Asia. Such networks constitute the cornerstones of the export economy. The Federal Councillors’ meetings with representatives of the Burmese government, as well as the quick inauguration of a Swiss embassy in Rangoon, are milestones in the development of possible economic relations.

A further example of how Switzerland can also assert itself vis-à-vis the interest of the European Union is its accession to the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem). Here, the EU had long fought against Switzerland’s participation. Last year, however, Switzerland and Norway were accepted at the request of the Asian members. Platforms such as Asem build networks and create opportunities again and again at a corporate level – no more and no less.

Driving forward political change
It is now up to Swiss firms to exploit these opportunities – be it on their own or in corporate alliances. The important thing is not to hesitate so long until the business opportunities are so obvious that they are perceived by other European, American or Asian firms. Rather, it is the order of the day to create new opportunities in an exchange with local partners and to make beneficial use of Swiss companies’ innovative power. This is not always simple, but then, simple solutions will not preserve any jobs in Switzerland in the long run.

Of course such engagements involve not only economic but also social and political risks. There is no guarantee that Burma will not stray from the path it has now chosen and relapse into dictatorial patterns. If, however, Burma’s rapidly growing middle class quickly profits from an economic exchange with countries such as Switzerland, then this will also stabilise political change.

Opportunities for Swiss enterprises

“Easier said than done,” is what most Swiss companies’ reply when the talk is about their entry into the Asian market. But there is also the proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Organisations such as OSEC, private consultancy firms and universities offer numerous support schemes for market development in the Asian region in order to establish an understanding among industries, new networks and the necessary intercultural competencies.

When small and medium-sized businesses, too, follow the Federal Council to Burma and other Asian countries, then Switzerland will really be able to exploit its advantages in the Far East – an opportunity to make Swiss industry more independent from developments in the EU.

Photo: Photocase / Baeriltis

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