Switzerland pledges to restore ties with Zim

HARARE - Switzerland has pledged to help Zimbabwe get re-integrated into the international community after more than a decade of isolation.

Willi Graf, the deputy head of regional cooperation for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, yesterday told journalists that his country was ready to assist the troubled southern African country regain its position in the world economic system.

“We are happy that our relationship has improved significantly over the past few years and since we are a small donor country, our role is to act as a catalyst to integrate Zimbabwe into the mainstream economy,” he said.

Relations between Zimbabwe and Switzerland soured at the turn of the millennium when in 2002 the Swiss Federal Council imposed sanctions on a number of individuals and firms in Zimbabwe, including a prohibition on the supply of arms, the freezing of assets and travel restrictions.

This was after the United States and the European Union (EU) had imposed the restrictive measures on the Zanu PF-led government following allegations of vote-rigging and human rights abuses.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the commencement of negotiations between the two countries was a step in the right direction towards the normalisation of relations between Zimbabwe and Switzerland.

“We are hoping to start step-by-step negotiations towards the signing of a memorandum of understanding on economic cooperation between the Swiss government and ourselves,” he said.

Chinamasa expressed optimism that Zimbabwe will regain her position as favourite foreign direct investment destination in the world with the assistance of Switzerland.

Through the Swiss Development Cooperation, Switzerland is providing more than $18 million annually in form of humanitarian and development assistance in critical areas such as food security, HIV/Aids, water supply and sanitation as well as protection and gender.

Early this year a leading pan-African investment group, Imara Edwards said renewed engagement with the international community and the move by the EU to suspend sanctions against most Zimbabwean officials and some state-linked firms could help the economy to recover quickly.

Tino Kambasha, the Imara Edwards Zimbabwe executive director said timing factors suggest that the country was now at a stage where private investors must take a closer look.

Switzerland is located in the heart of Europe and is almost entirely surrounded by 28 member states of the EU.

However, it is not a member of the EU; instead it conducts its relations with the EU on the basis of bilateral sector agreements.

The EU last year lifted sanctions on the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, a government mining arm, which has allowed it to auction its diamonds in Europe and Dubai.

The bloc will also resume channelling development aid directly to the Zimbabwe government from 2015.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund indicated it was appointing a resident representative in Zimbabwe for the first time in 10 years as the southern African country seeks to mend relations with the lender.

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