Saudi-Swiss ties get a new traction
Saudi-Swiss ties get a new traction
The official relationship was formalized in 1956 when the first Saudi envoy, Fakhri Sheikh El-Ard, presented his credentials to Swiss Confederation President Markus Feldmann and the Swiss envoy in Cairo, Jean-Luis Pahud, presented his credentials to King Saud in 1957.
However, according to information released by the Swiss Embassy in Riyadh, the first contact between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland took place in 1927 when Switzerland responded favorably to a request to officially recognize King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.
Still, Switzerland’s relationship with Saudi Arabia dates back even further.
The first Swiss who is officially documented to have visited the Arabian Peninsula was Jean Louis Burckhardt, from Lausanne. He is also known under his Arabic name of Sheikh Ibrahim ibn Abdallah.
A Middle East and Islamic expert, he visited the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in 1814 and 1815. He wrote detailed accounts about his travels.
In an interview with Arab News on Wednesday, Swiss Ambassador Heinrich Schellenberg said: “In December 1957, the Swiss government decided to open a legation in Jeddah, which later was upgraded to an embassy in 1971.”
Schellenberg said the Swiss presence in the Kingdom had mainly relied on the economy.
“Companies like ABB, Schindler, Sulzer and Nestle established early on a presence in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“Many official agreements have been concluded over the years in order to foster trade and economy.”
According to the ambassador, in the second half of the 20th century, Saudi tourists discovered Switzerland, and especially Geneva, as a prime destination for holidays.
“Ever since, the number of Saudi guests visiting our country has been growing substantially,” he said.
To leverage the good ties, the Swiss Business Network Saudi Arabia (SBNSA) was launched recently in Riyadh.
“The network’s aim is to support our members in carrying out their business activities in Saudi Arabia,” said Schellenberg.
“This will contribute to the further development of the relations between Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.”
The network was launched in Jeddah two days ago.
Schellenberg said the idea was to gather all Swiss companies and connect them with each other, and with their Saudi partners, with a view to creating business opportunities and giving more visibility to the Swiss business community in Saudi Arabia.
The envoy said more than 100 companies are currently doing business in Saudi Arabia.
“We have a very diversified economic presence, yet it is not really perceived as such. I have seen that the Saudis don’t usually realize the significance of Swiss economic part, and the same in Switzerland as well; they don’t realize the importance of the Saudi role,” said the ambassador.
“We established, not long time ago, a unique free trade agreement between European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, but we, are the only European country, together with our EFTA partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, to have such an agreement with the GCC. So, this is a great opportunity to develop business ties between our countries,” he said.
Regarding the Saudi Vision 2030 program and Switzerland’s potential role in implementing it, the ambassador said: “Saudi Vision 2030 is an ambitious project with a lot of innovation and a lot of opportunities for foreign countries and businesses to invest in Saudi Arabia.
“Switzerland has been ranked for the third time in a row as a top country in innovation (Global Innovation Index). Switzerland constitutes a fertile ground for businesses to develop themselves and be creative. This starts already in the Swiss dual education system in which young people not only get a theoretical education, but also a combination of practical and technical apprenticeship.
“Swiss companies and businesses, with their highly skilled employees with a lot of know how, are good and strong partners that can provide a lot of innovation requested by Saudi Vision 2030.
“The Swiss leading role in innovation is also reflected in the strong development of sustainable industries. For the Vision 2030, Swiss companies can provide a lot of know how and experiences in this area.”
The ambassador said there are many students from Saudi Arabia attending private high schools and colleges in Switzerland.
“In public universities, however, there are only a few students from Saudi Arabia, which is in part due to the fact that the local language (German, French or Italian) is essential for undergraduate studies,” he said.
According to the Federal Department of Finance, Saudi Arabia is the second largest export market for Switzerland in the Middle East.
In 2015, the total volume of trade between the two countries reached 4.9 billion Swiss francs. In the same year, Saudi Arabia’s total volume of imports from Switzerland reached 4.8 billion Swiss francs.
Saudi and Gulf tourists to Switzerland are among the most valuable, according to Schellenberg.
In 2015, Saudi citizens spent slightly over 375,000 nights in Swiss hotels, with an average stay per guest of almost three nights, long by Swiss standards.