This is the first bilateral visit of a Swiss foreign minister to Laos. Switzerland has maintained diplomatic relations with Laos since 1963 and has been involved in development cooperation there since 1995. Switzerland's long-standing development cooperation work was the key topic of Mr Cassis's meeting in Vientiane with Lao's deputy prime minister and minister of planning and investment, Sonexay Siphandone. The deputy prime minister thanked Switzerland for its long-standing commitment as well as for its disaster relief efforts following the devastating dam collapse in 2018.
Cooperation for balanced economic and social development
At their meeting, the two men signed a bilateral framework cooperation agreement that aims to deepen cooperation on employment and vocational education and training, agriculture and food security, the impact of climate change, improving local governance and citizen participation, and humanitarian aid in Laos. The agreement establishes a legal framework for the implementation of cooperation measures. In signing it, both partners commit to respecting democratic principles and fundamental rights, the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. "I am convinced that with this agreement Switzerland can contribute to balanced economic and social progress in Laos," Mr Cassis said after signing the agreement.
Switzerland is the eighth-largest bilateral donor to Laos, and opened a cooperation office in Vientiane in 2006. Since then, it has invested more than CHF 100 million in bilateral development projects in Laos. The SDC's new four-year cooperation programme for the period 2022–25, which is worth over CHF 60 million, is based on Switzerland's International Cooperation Strategy 2021–24.
Mr Cassis also inaugurated a new consular agency in Vientiane in the presence of representatives of the Swiss community. This agency will strengthen consular services for Swiss nationals in Laos as well as for the more than 8,000 Swiss tourists who visit the country every year.
Humanitarian support during the COVID-19 pandemic
While in Vientiane, Mr Cassis also met President Thongloun Sisoulith and Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith. Their discussions focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term socio-economic implications. Mr Cassis also visited a quarantine camp where workers returning from Thailand are required to enter a 14-day quarantine to protect against the spread of the virus. Mr Cassis announced that Switzerland would increase its contribution for food and hygiene articles at the camp to CHF 1.25 million. Switzerland is thus providing a total of around CHF 6 million to support the country in dealing with the consequences of the pandemic.
Under the chairmanship of Laos, Switzerland became a member of the group of 51 Asian and European states. ASEM was established in 1996 as an informal platform for dialogue to promote political, economic, social, and cultural cooperation between Asia and Europe.
Following visits to Thailand and Laos, Mr Cassis travels to Vietnam today for a two-day visit.
Address for enquiries:
Federal Palace West Wing
CH-3003 Bern, Switzerland
Tel. Communication service: +41 58 462 31 53
Tel. Press service: +41 58 460 55 55