1- Your assessment of the economic bilateral relations existing between Lebanon and Switzerland?
They are traditionally very good and diversified. The fact that an important Lebanese business community exists in Switzerland is a contributing factor. We Swiss think very highly of Lebanon, “The Switzerland of the Middle East”. We are Lebanon’s seventh most important trading partner and Lebanon our fifth trading partner in the MENA region. But personally, I believe that the economic potential between our two countries is not yet fully realized. Rule of law, stability and transparent conditions are crucial to boost our economic relations.
2- What kind of economic cooperation links Switzerland to Lebanon? Trade volume, nature of exports and imports?
In 2017, our bilateral trade has reached CHF 802 million. Our countries are mainly trading in gemstones, precious metals and jewellery (97.5% of Lebanon’s exports and 40% of Switzerland’s exports). In total, Lebanon has exported CHF 235 million worth of goods to Switzerland last year, while Switzerland has exported CHF 567 million to Lebanon, mainly consisting of jewellery and related goods (40%), pharmaceutical products (33%), watches (10%) and agricultural products (6%).
3- Economic agreements already signed, and those under study?
In addition to their common multilateral commitments, Lebanon and Switzerland have signed two important bilateral agreements. In 2000, we have concluded a treaty to promote and protect mutual investments. In 2004, Lebanon has signed a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), consisting of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The signature of new treaties will depend on compliance with the bilateral commitments we already have. The protection of intellectual property and designations of origin is particularly important to Switzerland.
4- Cultural and touristic exchanges?
I can proudly say – and I got this number form the Lebanese minister of tourism – that we are the European country with most visitors (per capita) to Lebanon. The Swiss come and they like to come. The same is true for the Lebanese, who love to travel to Switzerland (many also have family links there). We have direct flights between Geneva and Beirut with MEA and between Zurich and Beirut with Germania. Planes are usually packed and fully booked in advance.
As for our cultural exchanges, they are very intense. As an Embassy, we try to organize at least one cultural event per week, thanks to the faithful support of our sponsors, consisting of businesspeople from both countries. The Lebanese and the Swiss are both highly interested in cultural activities. This empowers us to do more, to do projects “out of the box” and to bring more and more Swiss and Lebanese artists together.
5- What educational partnership programmes and cooperation agreements exist between Swiss and Lebanese academic institutions? In what fields?
Switzerland and Lebanon both enjoy a high level of educational standards. I like to underline that one of the similarities of our countries is the fact that our most important natural resource (as we both do not have many) is brainpower. We both put a lot of effort in our education. Many Lebanese, by the way, study in Switzerland or send their children to Swiss schools. This additionally makes our bonds stronger.
Numerous cooperation agreements exist between Swiss and Lebanese academic institutions in fields as varied as engineering, hospitality, hospital care, film production, political science and history. As an Embassy, we are always ready to help, but we believe that international scientific cooperation is generally better off when left in the hands of scientists and academics themselves. As we like to repeat, the secret of Switzerland’s success in innovation is the lack of innovation policy! We favor content over formal agreements.
6- Is Switzerland a popular study destination for Lebanese students? Can Lebanese scholars and artists apply to the Swiss Government Excellence Scolarships?
Absolutely, as I just pointed out above. Lebanese can – if they have extraordinary results – apply for scholarships on an individual basis directly to the University and for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships (3 per year: 2 academic and one artistic).
7- Swiss nationals in Lebanon, Lebanese nationals in Switzerland (numbers, effective participation)
We have 1400 Swiss citizens registered with the Embassy. The effective number might be higher. As for the Lebanese in Switzerland, we do not have a precise number. Many of them got naturalized and are now Swiss citizens. But I am convinced we are talking about a 5 digit number.
8- Lebanon is an important partner for Switzerland in the Middle East, the 2 countries have longstanding bilateral relations and many things in common: cultural diversity within a small geographic area, mountains, scarce raw materials and openness to foreign trade, How much both countries resemble each other, where they differ?
You named it all: the beauty of the nature, the mountains, the multiculturality, the muliconfessionality, the diversity and different languages. I would add the strong financial sector in both countries; the international vision and approach. Swiss and Lebanese are successful all over the world. And both countries can count on an important and successful diaspora. When it comes to hospitality, I personally think we differ. Lebanese are warmhearted, hospital and generous. They make foreigners and guests fell welcomed. If you read the books of expats living in Switzerland, this warm and open approach seems not to be what they encounter “en masse”.
9- Biographical portrait/ how much a woman ambassador adds to her post and to the bilateral relations when compared with a male counterpart in the same post?
Brilliant question. I would not dare to say one is better than the other. Or one is more qualified than the other for the diplomatic career. What is sure is that we are different. This is why mixed teams are the most successful teams. When I go with one of my male colleagues to a meeting, he hears different things than me. Maybe women focus more on the unspoken, reading “between the lines”? But only both perceptions combined give you the whole picture.
I am happy to see so many female Ambassadors here in Beirut and delighted that the Lebanese Ambassador to Berne is also a woman. I feel welcomed and respected by all political fractions and would even see it as an advantage to be a female Ambassador to Lebanon.