Switzerland + India

Friendship between India and Switzerland

The emergence of friendship between India and Switzerland formally started with the Treaty of Friendship and Establishment of 1948 and was strengthened in various fields such as development, economy, and culture. The exchanges between the two countries have since then increased.

The two nations had a first commercial contact in 1851 when Salomon and Johann Georg Volkart simultaneously founded their company Volkart Brothers in Bombay and Winterthur. They reacted to the increasing demand in Europe for products from the Indian subcontinent and of European products in India. The two pioneers and adventurers reached high prominence with their company in India.

Furthermore, Mahatma Gandhi came to Switzerland in 1931 after having attended the Round Table Conference in London. He spent five days in Switzerland to meet his friend Romain Rolland.

Swiss development cooperation with India started 50 years ago. The first project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) was initiated in 1963 in Kerala with the purpose to contribute towards the improvement of livestock in the State, mainly for dairy production. The successful result was an eight-fold increase in milk production over 35 years in the region. From Kerala, SDC India geographically extended its activities to other regions and domains of cooperation, including to green technologies at present.

In the following parts you will find more about the continuation, evolution and deepening of this Indo-Swiss friendship.

Historical and Political Ties

What can one of the world's largest countries in South Asia have in common with a small country in the heart of Europe, given the differences in culture, language, history and religion?

Switzerland and India are in many respects close to each other. Swiss people, mainly artists and intellectuals, have since long been attracted to the historic and cultural splendour and the puzzling diversity, including the philosophical and religious one, of the subcontinent. Thus, the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, who during his trip to India in 1938, which he described thoroughly in his work, was honoured with three doctorates from Allahabad, Benaras and Calcutta universities. Or take the sculptor, painter and art historian Alice Boner (1889-1981) from Zurich, who spent not less than 45 years at the banks of the Ganga, in Benaras, and who was awarded the "Padmabhushan" in 1974 by the Indian President for her outstanding scholarly work on Indian art, especially sculpture and architecture. As to the well known Swiss travel writer Ella Maillard, she spent the years of the World War II in the ashram of Ramana Maharishi, south of Madras, and reflected her unique experience in the novel "Ti Puss".

The strong relationship between Switzerland and India has been continually strengthened by Indian and Swiss dignitaries who believed in the potential of sharing ideas and concrete projects together. Therefore, it is not surprising that the first ever friendship treaty signed by independent India was with Switzerland, signed by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 14th August 1948.

Ever since, the two countries have maintained a cordial friendship, kept alive by regular
visits, economic and cultural activities. Mr. Nehru admired Switzerland as a model
democratic state and sent his daughter Indira to a girl's boarding school in Bex, VD. Many members of the Indian leadership have been to Switzerland at one time or another and have helped to create a positive image of Switzerland in India.

Switzerland and India have since long been enjoying mutually beneficial trade and economic ties but these relations got a new impetus in the beginning of the 1990s, when India's economy began opening up to the world market. Both sides have some core competencies, which our political leaders and business communities have always strived to put together, resulting in increased trade and investment flows between the two countries.

The bilateral relations between India and Switzerland have grown closer over time. On 1st April 1947, Switzerland opened a Trade Mission in India, which in 1948 was converted into a Mission and in 1957 into an Embassy. The present Swiss Ambassador to India is H.E. Dr. Linus von Castelmur. He is also accredited to Nepal and Bhutan. There is a Consulate General each in Mumbai and Bangalore, which is currently headed by Mr. Werner E. Nievergelt and Mr. Rolf Frei, respectively. Two Honorary Consuls are promoting relations between India and Switzerland in Kolkata and Chennai.

India opened a mission in Switzerland in 1948, which was elevated to an embassy in 1954. Since 1957 there has been a residing Ambassador in Bern.  India maintains a General Consulate in Geneva and is represented by an Honorary Consul in Zurich.

Economic Relations

Swiss and Indian trade relations date back to 1851 when the Volkart brothers set up, on the same day, the Volkart Trading Company in Bombay (India) and Winterthur (Switzerland).

Switzerland and India continue to be natural partners constantly working together to strengthen their relationship in various fields. In the recent years, economic relations between the two countries have been hoisted to a higher level of importance. This is reflected in the pace at which our total bilateral trade has increased from Swiss Francs 1.16 billion in 2002 to Swiss Francs 2.62 billion in 2006, reflecting an increase of 125 per cent in four years. This positive trend in the last years is set to continue: In the first eleven months of 2007, Swiss exports to India have gone up by 30 per cent whilst Indian exports to Switzerland have increased by 25 per cent, as compared to the same period of the previous year.

In terms of foreign direct investments, Switzerland has remained amongst the top 10 foreign investors in India. About 150 Swiss companies have formed joint ventures or subsidiaries, and many more have representatives or agents in India. The Swiss technology-driven companies, including small and medium businesses, play a major role in the trade and investment flows to India. As more and more Indian companies are now venturing abroad, Switzerland is offering many attractive advantages as a business and investment location, especially for those Indian companies which would like to cover their European business activities from within Switzerland.

Our two countries have indeed a lot to offer to each other and to gain in developing cooperation in high-tech and knowledge-based industries. In fact, both sides are already trying to bring more vibrancy to the relationship by adopting focused approaches, and initiatives have already been taken in sectors such as biotechnology, textile machinery and railways.

The Swiss Business Hub India (SBHI) which is part of Osec Business Network Switzerland and which is located in the Consulate General in Mumbai and the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi offers a wide range of services to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from Switzerland and Liechtenstein in their efforts to penetrate the Indian market.

The Swiss-Indian Chamber of Commerce (SICC) is a key actor in promoting Swiss-Indian bilateral trade and investment. SICC is a bi-national, non-profit association with over 320 Swiss and Indian members. It has offices in Zurich, Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai. The Chamber provides members in Switzerland and India access to first-hand information and expertise thanks to the reservoir of know-how offered by its board and extensive partner network in both countries.

Recent years have also seen exchange of high-level visits, and intensification of the dialogue between the two governments to ensure that together they can explore new ways and means to further strengthen the trade and investment ties. Notably, India has been identified as a country of high importance in the framework of Switzerland's Foreign Economic Strategy. The EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and India will soon launch negotiations for a broad-based agreement on trade and investment. The Indo-Swiss joint economic commission meeting that used to be held every four years will now be held every year.

The instruments mentioned above and our bilateral agreements on the Double Taxation Avoidance, Promotion and Protection of Investments and an MOU on Intellectual Property Rights, will ensure that an increasing number of Swiss and Indian companies will find a shared interest in doing business together. The future looks very bright, and both sides are continuing their efforts to deepen and widen the bilateral trade and economic ties. 

Cultural Connections

Pro Helvetia - the Swiss Arts Council

Pro Helvetia New Delhi initiates, supports and presents projects that reflect the multicultural character of Switzerland and India. Pro Helvetia aims to provide opportunities to art practitioners for mutual enrichment and exchange in arts and culture. It supports Swiss artists seeking dialogue with Indian artists in an effort to forge closer ties. The focus is on quality and originality, on mutuality and respect, to ensure that both sides benefit from the exchange.

The liaison office in New Delhi is the Swiss Arts Council's first office in Asia. Its aim is to coordinate Pro Helvetia's activities in the South Asia region starting with India. It supports artistic and cultural collaboration between India and Switzerland, and also promotes Swiss ideas and arts practices among Indian audiences.

Contemporary music, theatre, design, dance, literature, photography and new media are the areas of focus. For more information visit: www.prohelvetia.in

Bollywood in Switzerland

 The love story between Switzerland and the Indian film industry dates way back to the mid-sixties, when Rajkapoor placed his cameras on Swiss soil for "Sangam", also "Evening in Paris" followed by more recent hits like "Chandni", "Darr", "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayaenge". Switzerland as a country offers white winters, colourful springs, sunny summers and golden autumn. Switzerland permits to shoot in public places, there is almost zero crime, and generous and helping people all around which gives a peaceful, hassle-free mindset to work. The first "Swiss Filmfare Award 2001" was announced by the Consulate General of Switzerland where the Swiss Hollywood celebrity Ms. Ursula Andress presented the award to Mr. Yash Chopra. In the following year, the "Swiss Filmfare Award 2002" was presented to Shah Rukh Khan, this time by Geraldine Chaplin, who grew up in Switzerland.

Development Cooperation

India is a country of contrasts and is perceived by many as a regional – or even world – power.

The international community is impressed by its economic and nuclear strength, while others emphasize the dark facets of this country and condemn the poverty and discrimination endured by many of its citizens, in particular minorities and untouchables (Dalits). Further sizeable challenges facing the government and people of India are a low job-creation rate, poor-quality public services and lack of access to them, as well as discrimination against women.

Figures reveal that India has the largest number of poor people in the world. Even today, 350 million Indians live on less than 1 USD a day, 47% of children suffer from malnutrition and in some States, such as Punjab, the proportion of women to men is a mere 793/1000.

This has been the background to Swiss development cooperation in India since 1961, aimed at helping to reduce poverty and contribute to sustainable, just rural development. In addition to the SDC, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) as well as around 60 Swiss non-governmental organizations (some of them with SDC support) are active in India.

In 2006, the SDC started shifting the emphasis of its development cooperation programme with India towards a new type of collaboration known as a Partnership Program. This new program, which is much more modest in financial terms than the current program, has different procedures and thematic priorities, will become operational in 2010. Between 2007 and 2009, the programme will be making the transition from the traditional cooperation program, in effect since 1961, to the new Partnership Program.

Please find more information here.

Bilateral Agreements
  • The Treaty of Friendship and Establishment of 14th August 1948, which came into force on 5th May 1948 (AS 1949, I 431/RO 1949, I, 431).
  • Indo Swiss Agreement on Technical and Scientific Co-operation signed on 27th September 1966.
  • The Exchange of Letters on 20th February 1989 between Switzerland and India concerning assistance in criminal matters, which came into force on 20th February 1989 (AS 1989, 777/ RO 1998, 777).
  • The Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation between the Swiss Confederation and the Republic of India with respect to income taxes, which came into force on 29th December 1994 (AS 1995, 845/RO 1995, 845).
  • The Agreement on Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology for 5 years was signed on 13th September 1999.
  • The Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments between the Swiss Confederation and the Republic of India, which came into force on 16th February 2000.
  • Indo-Swiss Agreement relating to Co-operation in Air Services signed on 2nd May 2001.
  • The Agreement on Co-operation in the fields of Science and Technology between the Swiss Federal Council and the Government of the Republic of India signed on 10th November 2003. 
  • The Grant Agreement between the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and the International Competence Center for Organic Agriculture in India signed on 3rd February 2005
  • A Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India and the Federal Department of Economic Affairs of Switzerland on intellectual property signed on 7th August 2007. 

             Please find an exhaustive list of bilateral agreements here.


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