On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, priority thematic areas for Switzerland are regional stability and security, economic and financial cooperation, and sustainable natural resource management.
Switzerland also wishes to support the Gulf countries in their efforts to professionalise their international cooperation, especially with regard to South-South cooperation and compliance with international development standards in the areas of climate change, health and water management.
Foreign policy priorities for the MENA region
Switzerland's priorities in the UAE
The MENA Strategy 2021–24 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in the UAE:
1. Sustainable development
Switzerland promotes responsible business conduct in its private sector with a gold trade initiative.
2. Economic affairs, finance and science
Switzerland is working to improve market access for Swiss companies, also in the field of finance. In particular, it is promoting itself as a tourist destination in the growth market of the Gulf states (Gulf Hub).
The UAE is Switzerland's most important trading partner in the Middle East. The annual trading volume is just under CHF 20 billion. Switzerland mainly exports precious stones and metals, watches, jewellery and pharmaceutical products to the UAE, and mainly imports precious stones, precious metals and jewellery from the country.
They have concluded agreements on the promotion and mutual protection of investments (1998), scheduled air services (1999), reciprocal visa-free access for holders of a diplomatic or service passport (2010) and double taxation (2011). A free trade agreement between EFTA and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states entered into force in 2014.
3. Digitalisation and new technologies
Switzerland is using existing instruments to link up research institutes at home and in the UAE. It supports start-ups and companies at home that intend to use the economic diversification of the UAE as an opportunity to introduce new technologies developed in Switzerland. It is also supporting the continuation of the EPFL postgraduate project in the UAE.
The opening of an EPFL research centre in Ras Al Khaimah in May 2009 marked the beginning of a promising partnership between Switzerland and the UAE in the field of education. EPFL Middle East offers interdisciplinary master's and PhD programmes in renewable energy and sustainability.
Researchers and artists who are citizens of the UAE can apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships from the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
4. Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland is launching a regional initiative to promote dialogue between the Arabian Peninsula states and Iran. Switzerland uses major events such as the 2020 World Expo (rescheduled for 2021) and its close cooperation with the private sector to promote human rights with initiatives in the area of labour migration.
Trade promotion, Switzerland Global Enterprise SGE
Information on countries, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO)
Trade statistics, Swiss Federal Customs Administration (FCA)
Swiss Business Hub Middle East
EPFL Middle East
Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships for Foreign Scholars and Artists
Leading House MENA project