Building the future, together

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Alain Gaschen - The Philippine Star

The New Year generally brings a sense of wonder and optimism, as we look past the trials and tribulations of the previous 52 weeks and look forward to what triumphs and transformations are coming our way in the upcoming year. I was looking forward to a period of consistent normalcy following the improving situation the world was facing towards the end of 2021, only to find myself settling for more Zoom calls and home quarantines due to a new variant that made its presence felt following the holidays. Alas, I am an optimist by nature, thus I hope that increasing vaccinations and boosters as well as the decreased severity of the disease and the further availability of COVID-19 treatments (some being pushed for by Swiss companies!) can help turn the tide and see a quick return to normalcy.

As I enter what would be my third year in the Philippines, I look at what the Philippine-Swiss relationship has accomplished. The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is a member-state, and the Philippines is in full swing. Studies by the Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) were also done to understand the potential of Filipino products in the European market. In the field of transitional justice and reconciliation, Switzerland continues to support the peace parties and to follow closely the developments in the recently formed Bangsamoro. The Swiss presence was also active in the pandemic as mentioned previously, and in other humanitarian aid such as the support provided in recent typhoons like Odette.

Indeed, I can only describe the relationship between our two countries as consistently moving forward and innovating. This ever improving and strengthening of our ties is not new and has been the cornerstone since 1957. Of course, the Philippines and Switzerland can trace its engagement with one another even to the 1800s. This was when Swiss merchants began to set up shop in the Philippines, with DKSH, Zuellig and Nestlé being among the oldest Swiss companies getting settled in the country.

In fact, Switzerland’s first consulate in Asia was founded in Manila through the initiative of Peter Jenny, an entrepreneur from the canton of Glarus and a member of the National Council. The strategic location was a key factor for the choice of Manila back then, and remains a competitive advantage of the Philippines until today. With that in mind, we look at 160 years of friendship and people-to-people exchanges between our two countries that have been nurtured and expanded over time.

But for us, 2022 is an important and historic milestone as it marks the 65th anniversary of formal Swiss-Philippine diplomatic relations. A lot has happened between our two countries since then, but I can only imagine what new opportunities are on the horizon for our relationship. This is why for the 65th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations, we aim to grasp these opportunities, as we continue “Building the Future, Together.” This goal is our driving force in all our efforts for the next few months, as we search for more avenues of cooperation and collaboration.

In general, this year looks to be an exciting one, with national elections, as well as growing opportunities for the recovery of the Philippine economy. There is also certainty that Switzerland will aim to deepen its ties with the Philippines. This would be in the form of strengthening our economic, political and cultural relations but also discovering new avenues for us to collaborate. An example of which is Switzerland’s renewed commitment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a founding and active member. To do this, Switzerland is in the process of drafting a new ASEAN strategy that would determine how the two sides can best work together to assure mutual success.

One aspect of Switzerland that we wish to further as we celebrate our 65th anniversary is its position as the world’s leaders in innovation. This attention to new developments and innovative solutions to various issues reflects Switzerland’s core values and can be applied to how the Swiss face the challenges of today. Switzerland has consistently ranked in the top spot as the world’s most innovative country, and this is also evident in how we have committed to sustainability and clean technology.

This commitment is especially relevant in countries like the Philippines, which is seen to bear the brunt of climate-related concerns. This year, we are looking to mount a CleanTech exhibit that will showcase the achievements of Swiss organizations and Swiss companies based in the Philippines in the field. We also aim to highlight innovation in other fields, in the industrial realm for example, but also in our gastronomy or in the arts and culture. In other words, innovation will serve as a kind of common thread for the celebration of the 65th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.

Truly, there is more to Switzerland than the traditional images of picturesque views and delectable gastronomic experiences. This modern, innovative and creative side of Switzerland is what we hope to spotlight throughout the year as we look forward to the next 65 years of our steadfast relationship. We will continue to work and build our future, together!

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Alain Gaschen is the Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines since August 2019.

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