ASTANA – Switzerland, one of the first countries to confirm its participation in EXPO 2017, enjoys durable relations with Kazakhstan. As members of the same voting group since 2010, the two nations cooperate within the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Their Central Banks have close ties, emphasised by the visit to Almaty earlier this year by Swiss National Bank President Thomas Jordan in order to meet his counterpart Kairat Kelimbetov.
Switzerland and Kazakhstan are recognised worldwide for adhering to neutral foreign policy. “Kazakhstan refers to it as ‘multi-vector policy,’ in Switzerland it is called ‘armed-neutrality,” but it is a strong parallel between our two countries,” Swiss Ambassador to Kazakhstan Mauro Reina told The Astana Times in an exclusive interview. “If you take a closer look, there are plenty of similarities in both countries’ foreign relations. Switzerland maintains good relations with its neighbours and follows an important role not only bilaterally but also multilaterally. For instance, as it is well-known Kazakhstan has twice held the P5+1 Iran talks in 2013 and Switzerland has also hosted similar Iran talks on numerous occasions, the last one in Lausanne in early April. We are also supporting Kazakhstan in the bid for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) non-permanent seat in 2017-2018. Furthermore, we seek more cooperation within such organizations like the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Kazakhstan chaired in 2010 and we chaired last year.”
Switzerland is the third largest foreign investor in the Kazakh economy after the U.S. and the Netherlands. “Kazakhstan has been recognised as Switzerland’s main partner in the Central Asian region,” said Reina. He added that Switzerland is grateful to Kazakhstan for the visa waiver for up to 15 days since July 16 because this is very important for doing business. Current statistics have estimated $13.5 billion in Swiss direct investments into the country from 2005 until the first quarter of 2015. The data shows the trade turnover in 2014 totalled $4.7 billion, with Kazakh exports at $4.5 billion, 95.7 percent consisting of energy inputs and products. Imports totalled $188 million, including pharmaceuticals and chemicals (36.5 percent), watches (12 percent), agricultural products (10.7 percent), precious stones and jewellery (10.6 percent), machinery and equipment (7.5 percent), electronics (6.2 percent), fertilizers (4.2 percent) and optics (3.9 percent).
(*Kazakhstan National Bank / Swiss Customs data courtesy of the Swiss Embassy in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan).
The ambassador also spoke about how his country contributes to the development of the service sector in Kazakhstan. One concrete example is the cooperation between Zurich Airport and the company KTZ Express for the management and development of public airports in Kazakhstan. “Also the new terminal of Astana Airport is being constructed by a Swiss company Mabetex”, Ambassador Reina mentioned. “In view of the upcoming EXPO 2017, the standards of construction will be very high, up to the international level.”
A business delegation of Swiss Global Enterprise (S-GE) will visit Kazakhstan on Sept. 7-10. An equivalent to KAZNEX INVEST, S-GE works under the authority of the Swiss Government, and the purpose of its business trip is to help and promote small and medium-sized companies from Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein to develop business relations with the Kazakh business community.
On a personal note, Reina wants to bring the best of Switzerland to Kazakhstan. Despite the geographic distance, he noted the importance of the two nations becoming more familiar with one another. Switzerland is a popular destination for Kazakhs who travel there for reasons of business, study or health care or as tourists to explore the beautiful country sides.
“My Embassy is also active on the cultural exchange and thus has organised various cultural events in the past. Among other projects a Swiss Jazz Band from the French part gave live concerts and offered master classes in Almaty, Astana and Ust-Kamenogorsk. For now, together with the National Museum of Kazakhstan, we are planning an exhibition with the photographic works of one of Switzerland’s contemporary photographer next spring,” he said.
“This year, I felt that celebrating the Swiss National Day in Kazakhstan was something we needed to do. With the sponsorship of 21 Swiss companies and local businesses representing Swiss brands in Kazakhstan, we hosted the Swiss National Day in Astana on July 20. We showcased Swiss cuisine, wines and music, and with the nice weather on our side, our guests enjoyed a very pleasant evening in the garden of the Hotel Rixos President,” said the ambassador.
Reina noted how impressed he was with Kazakhstan. “It was my first time when I came to Kazakhstan two and a half years ago and I must say it was a learning process for me. I am still amazed about the achievements of this country. I have travelled quite extensively through Kazakhstan during my stay here and I have been always received in a warm and exquisite way. The deep-rooted hospitality is some of the best in this country. Moreover, I am impressed about the well-educated Kazakh youth. The Bolashak Scholarship and the establishment of the Nazarbayev University have been the right priorities set by your farsighted President. They build a strong base for developing and diversifying the capabilities of the young Kazakh people. I hope that they will have good opportunities to further develop Kazakhstan,” he ended.