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G20 – what’s in it for Switzerland?

From climate change to open markets, the policies of the Group of 20 – which set an agenda for the world – align with many of those of Switzerland, one of the most heavyweight outsiders not officially a member of the international forum.

Switzerland’s main trading partner is the European Union, and the single nation that does the most trade with the Swiss is Germany. So, it stands to reason that a G20 summit in Germany is especially important for Switzerland’s competitive economy. What came out of the recent gathering in Hamburg for the Swiss?

The G20’s final communiqué over the weekend puts “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth” as the highest priority and declares the Paris climate agreement as “irreversible”, despite US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw his predecessor’s pledge of curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Previous pledges were based on 1990 levels.

This is in line with the priorities of the Swiss government, which in 2015 became the first nation to submit a Paris climate deal pledge when it promised to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The communiqué emphasises the G20’s intention to “invest more in sustainable energy sources and clean-energy technologies and infrastructure.” This, too, aligns with Swiss voters’ decision in May to enact a new law to promote renewable energy, ban new nuclear power plants and lower energy consumption.

Switzerland has ranked, in varying recent years, as the 19th or 20th biggest economy, but G20 membership is limited to 19 countries plus the European Union. It tried to join the G20, arguing that it should be a member, but some nations including G20 member Brazil oppose Switzerland as a member on the basis that it would make the G20 too Euro-centric.

The Swiss have been invited to participate nonetheless each year since 2013, but only to take part in the financial aspect of the G20 summit – one of its two main “tracks”. The other aspect is the one that deals with literally everything else, including some financially related subjects, ranging from development and international trade to social issues and corruption.

Global openness

Ahead of the two-day summit in Hamburg, the Swiss government said Finance Minister Ueli Maurer and State Secretary for International Financial Matters Jörg Gasser would discuss the resilience of national economies to crises, international financial architecture and sustainable global growth. International tax matters and implementation of the agreed standards in financial market regulation also were on the agenda.

The G20’s communiqué could be seen as good news for Switzerland’s openness to global trade and investment, which is part of the reason that the country has become one the world’s most competitive and innovative economies.

“We will keep markets open, noting the importance of reciprocal and mutually advantageous trade and investment frameworks and the principle of non-discrimination, and continue to fight protectionism including all unfair trade practices and recognise the role of legitimate trade defence instruments in this regard,” it said.

Antibiotic resistance

Another topic of interest to the heavily agricultural-producing Swiss is antibiotic resistance, including how the drugs are used with animals and in food-producing animals.

Switzerland has reported lower levels of antibiotic resistance compared with other European countries, as Swiss researchers focus on monitoring its spread and studying its mechanisms.

The Swiss National Science Foundation launched a CHF20 million ($20.7 million) initiative in 2015 to support five years of research projects to identify resistance, transmission mechanisms and new diagnostic tools and therapeutic approaches.

The G20 agreed that countries should have made substantial progress in implementing their national action plans by the end of 2018, restricting antibiotics to therapeutic uses only with animals and saying that “responsible and prudent use of antibiotics in food-producing animals does not include the use for growth promotion in the absence of risk analysis”.