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SwissCham was once again an organizer of the Swiss International Business Forum, a leading international business event in Switzerland. On November 9 and 10, 2005 approximately 350 people from the world of economics and politics gathered at Zurich Hallenstadion’s new conference center to learn about recent developments in international business and to exchange ideas. SwissCham was joined by the partners of Business Network Switzerland, an alliance of expert organizations equipped to answer all questions pertaining to international business, including erg, Osec, SIPPO and the Swiss Organisation for Facilitating Investments (SOFI).

This year the Swiss International Business Forum focused on ways of financing international business. China, was the guest country this year. The Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) played an important role in supporting the second day of the forum, which was devoted to doing business in China. Susan Horvath, SCCC Managing Director, was on the Forum steering committee, and lent her expertise to program development and organization. In honor of the SCCC's 25 anniversary, Jörg Wolle, the President made a commemorative speech at the networking dinner on November 9. Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Xiaozhun Yi and a high-level mission of business men including Chen Jian Cheng, President and CEO of the Wolong Group Shanghai, an electrical engineering firm that is among China’s top 500 companies, attended the Forum and offered first-hand information on government policy and business conditions in the country.

In his welcome address on the first day Federal Councillor Deiss emphasized that China is a good partner for many Swiss companies. "In my discussions in Shanghai and Beijing I learnt that China takes Switzerland seriously! And Swiss entrepreneurs take the Chinese market seriously." Federal Councillor Deiss stressed the importance of this market for Swiss entrepreneurs. He stated that he wants to ensure workplaces in Switzerland, and views a Swiss presence in burgeoning markets such as China as a way to ensure the continuous growth of the Swiss economy and associated employment opportunities.

Dr. Niklaus Blattner, Vice Chairman of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank, said that about 5 000 Swiss firms have stakes abroad. This is 2% of the approximately 300 000 companies in our country. Small and medium size enterprises constitute 95% of all direct investment. In absolute terms SME involvement is relatively modest, while it is the large enterprises that leave their stamp on foreign capital and human resource development abroad.

Dr. Hans F. Vögeli, CEO of Zurich Cantonal Bank, main sponsor of the Swiss International Business Forum for the fifth year in a row, observed that "Zurich’s economy earns every second franc abroad – a growing tendency." He added that "in the meantime about 300 Swiss firms with over 55 000 employees are represented in China."

Gordon Orr, Managing Director of the Greater China Office, McKinsey & Company, China, reiterated this fact, noting that "foreign enterprises in China are drivers of China’s export successes today." Despite the challenges, he believes that the risks of doing business in China are manageable and that firms could benefit from the lower cost structure.

Swiss entrepreneurs with track records in China elaborated ways of overcoming these risks. Christian Mosbeck, Oertli Induflame AG, highlighted the importance of building good relations with local authorities. Dominique Lauener, Lauener SA, who benefited from a seco Start-up Fund credit and support from SOFI in China, said it is essential to find a trusted local partner and to rely on the resources of an experienced local intermediary agency to identify and build a relationship with an appropriate partner.

Opinions vary on whether China is the optimal target market for Swiss exports due to fierce local competition and the financial and operational costs of doing business in this unfamiliar environment. Still, there is no doubt, that the Chinese market represents tremendous untapped potential for Swiss companies, especially in regions away from the metropolis of Beijing and Shanghai, such as Western China. CEO of Nestlé China Josef M. Müller pointed out that "by having changed itself, China is changing the world." The challenge now for Swiss SMEs is to see whether and, if so, how to ride this wave of change.

Aside from valuable information, the event offered SwissCham members an opportunity to reconnect and exchange views. In addition to SwissCham President Jürg Schweri, a number of chamber representatives attended, including Corinne Schirmer, Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Peru, Max Steiner, Chamber of Commerce Switzerland – Central Europe, Martin Naville, Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, Gérard Salzmann, Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Morocco and Michael Enderele, Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce. SwissCham had a stand where the chambers documentation was displayed, and members could network with each other and other forum participants.
By Dorit Probst-Sallis

Rolf Jecker, Corinne SchirmerSpacer Jürg Schweri, Eric Scheidegger, Hans-Peter Achermann
Left to right: H.E. E. Astete Rodrigues, Ambassador of Peru in Switzerland, Rolf Jecker, Osec President, and Corinne Schirmer, Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Peru Jürg Schweri; SwissCham President, talks to Ambassador Eric Scheidegger, seco (right) and Hans-Peter Achermann, SOFI.
Gérard SalmannSpacer Max Steiner, Dorit Probst-Sallis, Jürg Schweri

Gérard Salzmann, Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Morocco, proudly displays the most recent edition of his chamber's bulletin, "CCS Information".

At the SwissCham stand, (left to right), Max Steiner, SEC, Dorit Probst-Sallis and Jürg Schweri, SwissCham.

SwissCham, the Association of Swiss Foreign Trade Chambers since 1935, promotes Swiss exports and a Swiss economic presence abroad through its global network of member chambers.