Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter undertakes official working visits to Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu

Bern, Press releases, 22.10.2013

From 25 to 28 October 2013, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter will visit three states of the Asia-Pacific region. The meetings in Australia and New Zealand will be the first official visits by a Swiss foreign minister to these two states. And Vanuatu will receive a Swiss federal councillor for the first time at all. Political talks in Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu will focus on strengthening bilateral relations with the three countries and establishing closer cooperation on multilateral issues such as sustainable development and climate change.

The Pacific region covers about one third of the earth's surface and is an integral part of one of the world's fastest-growing areas, the Asia-Pacific region. As a consequence, Australia and New Zealand weathered the financial crisis largely unscathed. Moreover, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the G20, Australia is a major player on the world stage. For Switzerland, the Asia-Pacific region is becoming increasingly important from a political and economic perspective, as well as with respect to the development of approaches to solve global problems. Bilateral and multilateral issues will therefore take centre stage in Mr Burkhalter's meetings in the Asia-Pacific region.

The first stage of the trip will be New Zealand, with which Switzerland celebrates this year the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Mr Burkhalter, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA),  will meet New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, in Auckland on 25 October. That day, he is also scheduled to meet New Zealand's prime minister, John Key. Over the past decade, bilateral relations have become significantly closer.  Some 7,000 Swiss nationals live in New Zealand, one of the largest Swiss communities outside Europe.  There are also many areas of political agreement between the two states.  Among these is the UN, where Switzerland and New Zealand have made the strengthening of human rights and meeting environmental and climate challenges top priorities. Both governments also stress the importance of free trade and are strongly committed to renewable energies. Strengthening bilateral relations will therefore be a key topic of the political talks in Auckland.

Mr Burkhalter is the first Swiss federal councillor to visit Vanuatu. On 26 and 27 October, he will meet foreign minister Edward Natapei in the capital Port Vila. Their talks will focus on enhancing multilateral cooperation. Since 2008, Switzerland has supported the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable, and in 2013 participated for the first time in the Pacific Islands Forum. Next year, Switzerland will also lend its support to the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, which takes place once every ten years and is the most important conference of the island states. All of these forums will address, among other issues, the consequences of climate change. Mitigating those effects is the focus of Switzerland's efforts in that respect at the international level. In Vanuatu, Mr Burkhalter will also discuss the possibilities available to Vanuatu and other small Pacific island states to get a better hearing at the multilateral level and what Switzerland can do to support their concerns more effectively in the future. In this context, Mr Burkhalter will present a project to train young diplomats from the Pacific island states. One of Switzerland's assets is Geneva, an important centre of international environmental and climate policy where numerous international organisations, including many NGOs, are headquartered.

On 28 October, Mr Burkhalter will meet the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, in Canberra. Besides global challenges, possibilities for closer bilateral relations will also be discussed during the meeting. Some 30,000 Swiss nationals currently live in Australia. Switzerland and Australia maintain very close multilateral and bilateral cooperation on many fronts, such as scientific research.  Switzerland has also maintained regular political dialogue with Australia since 2012.

Further information:

Visit to Australia, New Zealand and Vanuatu

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