Switzerland's donation of approximately 100 respirators and over one million antigen test kits was made in response to an increase in COVID-19 infections in Thailand. At the handover ceremony, the Thai authorities thanked Mr Cassis for Switzerland's assistance. Mr Cassis also met with Thailand's Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to discuss the challenges of dealing with the pandemic.
At a virtual town-hall meeting in the Swiss embassy, he delivered a 1 August address to members of the Swiss community living in the Mekong region, in order to mark Switzerland's national day and to discuss with them how they were coping with the COVID-19 situation. Several thousand Many interested people joined in via Facebook and were able to watch the speech of the Federal Councillor live. Mr Cassis also met in person with representatives of the Swiss community in the region to discuss issues of concern to them.
Political talks with prime minister and foreign minister
The official talks with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, cooperation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), human rights and the crisis in Myanmar. Mr Cassis and his hosts also paid tribute to the friendly relations between the two countries. This year, Switzerland and Thailand are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Mr Cassis thanked Mr Pramudwinai for Thailand's good cooperation in facilitating repatriation flights of Swiss nationals in March 2020: "The support we give each other in times of crisis underscores that our bilateral ties have grown from strength to strength over the years. As an economic partner and a prominent member of ASEAN, Thailand is not only key for Switzerland but also for political and economic stability in the region." Switzerland has been a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN since 2016.
Mr Cassis also met with Varawut Silpa-archa, Thailand's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, to discuss climate change and opportunities for cooperation in this area.
Second most important trading partner in South East Asia
The two sides also expressed their interest in initiating negotiations on a free trade agreement. Technical discussions are currently under way between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Thailand on the general framework for potential negotiations. With an annual trade volume of approximately CHF 10.5 billion, Thailand is Switzerland's second most important trading partner in South East Asia. Over 200 companies with ties to Switzerland currently operate in Thailand, employing several thousand people. Mr Cassis also took advantage of his visit to Bangkok to inaugurate the new offices of the Swiss-Thai Chamber of Commerce (STCC) on the grounds of the Swiss embassy. In conjunction with this inauguration, Mr Cassis also took part in a hybrid signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between ETH Zurich – Leading House for bilateral cooperation in science and technology in Asia – and the STCC for an exchange programme for Swiss interns in companies affiliated with the STCC.
Thailand: a popular destination for Swiss tourists and expats
Approximately 15,000 Swiss citizens live in Thailand. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 200,000 Swiss tourists visited Thailand and 150,000 Thai tourists visited Switzerland every year. To facilitate an optimal response to developments in the travel sector, the two countries therefore signed an MoU in Bangkok on regular bilateral consular consultations.
Mr Cassis will travel on to Laos tomorrow and conclude his trip to the Mekong region with a visit to Vietnam on 5 and 6 August.
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