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Landmark Swiss-China free-trade deal comes into force

BASEL, Switzerland--A watershed free-trade deal between China and Switzerland came into force on Tuesday, the first such accord between the Asian giant and a mainland European economy.

Marking the start of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann and Chinese trade envoy Yu Jianhua presided over a ceremony in the northern city of Basel.

“This is a real chance for Swiss and Chinese businesses alike,” Schneider-Amman told reporters.

“Our economy needs access to markets for its goods and services. The Swiss domestic market alone is too small for our economy and our labor market to prosper, and this is the consideration which shapes our foreign economic policy,” he said.

“I am convinced that both sides will benefit from this agreement,” he added, noting that Swiss industrial and farm goods would benefit from Chinese tariff cuts, while China's industrial products would have duty-free access to Switzerland.

The deal also bolsters intellectual property protection for Swiss goods — a persistent concern for Western firms on the Chinese market, though Beijing has stepped up its battle against the pirates.

Yu, a key FTA negotiator and China's ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), echoed Schneider-Ammann's remarks.

“This FTA is a historic step that will cement our economies,” Yu said.

“It will also further help the process of reform and opening,” he added.

As the two officials looked on, a crane hauled a shipping container marked “Switzerland-China FTA” from a barge on the River Rhine, symbolizing Chinese imports, and loaded another in honor of Swiss exports.

The Rhine has long been landlocked Switzerland's link to maritime commerce, with Basel still accounting for 40 percent of Swiss exports and 12 percent of imports.

The FTA was signed in Beijing July 2013, capping two years of talks between China and Switzerland.

'Small is beautiful

The deal is China's second with a European country after Beijing signed an FTA with economic crisis casualty Iceland in April 2013.

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