Didier Burkhalter in Canada: Bern and Ottawa look to strengthen diplomatic ties

Bern, 09.06.2016 - Strengthening relations between Switzerland and Canada was the focus of a 24-hour visit by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter to Ottawa on Thursday. The head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) met his counterpart Stéphane Dion as well as the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau. The two foreign ministers emphasised the need to strengthen relations between the two countries and agreed to draw up a working plan to structure their future relationship. Switzerland and Canada have converging positions on several issues relating to peace and security policy. They also plan to work together more closely within international organisations.

A member of the G7 and G20, Canada is culturally close to Switzerland and shares French as a national language. Forging closer ties with Canada is consistent with the second priority of the Swiss Foreign Policy Strategy 2016–19 adopted by the Federal Council, which requires Switzerland to bolster its relationships with global partners with a view to safeguarding its interests and resolving specific problems.

Among other matters, Mr Burkhalter and Mr Dion discussed possible collaboration in the training of mediators. Switzerland has acknowledged expertise in this area, while Canada’s new government is also keen to make mediation a foreign policy priority. Migration issues and the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine were also discussed by the two ministers, as was the subject of conflict prevention, particularly in connection with climate change.

With the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau, Mr Burkhalter discussed the challenges faced by international cooperation, particularly in the field of health and the safeguarding of women and children, as well as possible cooperation with Canada in Haiti and West Africa.

Switzerland and Canada have close economic, social and cultural ties. Canada was one of the primary destinations for Swiss emigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some 40,000 Swiss citizens are resident in Canada, while over 150,000 Canadians can claim Swiss origins. Canada is Switzerland’s second-largest economic partner on the American continent, accounting for CHF 3.5 billion in exports by Swiss companies and imports of CHF 1 billion in 2015. There are also many close links between Swiss and Canadian universities and research institutions.
 
By comparison, political relations between the two countries have been less close in recent years, with the last two visits by an FDFA head being those of Flavio Cotti in 1994 and Pierre Aubert in 1981.


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