“Japan is a ‘priority country’ for Switzerland”

Ready for recovery

Ambassador of Switzerland to Japan Dr Andreas Baum


MAY 2021 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos © Ayako Suzuki

This year, Ambassador of Switzerland to Japan Dr Andreas Baum celebrates 30 years in the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. In addition to postings in Turkey and Canada, he has been minister and deputy permanent representative of Switzerland to the United Nations in New York. He has also served his nation as ambassador to Nigeria, Chad, and Niger (2008–2012), Israel (2012–2016), and India and Bhutan (2016–2020). He took up his post in Japan last October.

What are the main areas of focus at the embassy right now?

We are continuing to monitor the pandemic and manage our response through dialogue with the Japanese authorities, but we are also focusing on post-pandemic recovery. During the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Guy Parmelin will come to Japan, and his visit will be an important step in helping us plan for the future. Japan is a “priority country” for Switzerland, as defined in our foreign policy strategy.

We are hopeful that vaccination campaigns and public health measures will soon allow for people-to-people exchanges and cross-border collaboration to resume — and accelerate. In this context, we believe one key topic of common interest for Japan and Switzerland is sustainability. This includes working towards lower-carbon economies, healthier and more resilient societies powered by innovation, and responsible cycles of production and consumption.

Expo 2025 in Osaka will be an important platform to assess the world’s progress towards realising the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, intended to be achieved by 2030. Switzerland has officially confirmed its participation in Expo 2025 and we are already working to reinforce our engagement with the Kansai region in the fields of research and innovation.

What do you have planned for the Olympics?

Supporting our wonderful athletes and all of Team Switzerland is the priority. Even though we have had to cancel the House of Switzerland pavilion due to growing uncertainties around public events and health guidelines, we want to stand in solidarity with Japan for the delivery of a safe and successful Games.

As much as possible, we will continue to build momentum around Doors to Switzerland, our public diplomacy campaign that showcases Swiss innovation and creativity, ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics.

Could you give a few examples of important collaborations taking place between Switzerland and Japan?

Remarkably, in spite of the pandemic, Swiss high-tech firms and the Swiss framework for research and development continue to attract a great deal of interest among Japanese companies and investors. The acquisition of ABB Power Grids by Hitachi last year is, of course, one of the most compelling examples, as it also highlights how renewable energy is expected to boost growth in the power grid market.

I can also mention the acquisition of Swiss engineering plastics recycler Minger Group by Mitsubishi Chemical. Additionally, there’s Avaloq — a Swiss-based global leader in digital banking solutions, core banking software, and wealth management technology for the financial service industry — which has joined Japan’s NEC for its next phase of growth. Last year, the Japanese multinational Yokogawa established a new innovation centre, focusing on the development of biotechnology, in Basel.

Finally, I am very pleased to announce a new partnership between Japan’s e5Lab — a consortium of Asahi Tanker Co., Exeno Yamamizu Corporation, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and Mitsubishi Corporation — and Switzerland’s Almatech, a naval and space engineering company, which is also working on a zero-emission, high-speed shuttle boat.

Could you tell me about Switzerland’s progress in tackling the coronavirus pandemic?

There is currently a major effort in the deployment of mass vaccination, with the goal that everyone gets access to a first shot by the end of June. This would allow Switzerland to consider a careful and gradual re-opening of the country in August. In parallel, efforts to ramp up testing and support measures for ailing economic sectors are ongoing.

More generally, the situation in Switzerland — at the heart of heavily pandemic-hit Europe — has brought to the fore certain issues characteristic of the global Covid-19 crisis: the complex relations between science and politics; the solidity of our governance, especially our federalism; social and intergenerational contracts; the delicate trade-off between public health and the economy; and the need for international collaboration to tackle global challenges.

What are some ways Swiss firms or technologies are helping in the fight against the coronavirus?

One prominent example is biotech- nology company Lonza, which supplies ingredients for the Moderna mRNA vaccine. Roche Diagnostics is also playing an active role with their self-testing and variant-tracking products.

Additionally, Lumendo — a spin-off company from our polytechnic schools ETH Zurich and EPFL — has invented Disigel, a disinfectant that remains effective for several hours. Other significant spin-offs include Swoxid Technology and HeiQ, which both offer masks made of antiviral textiles. These are just a few examples of the many promising projects in the field of Covid-19 detection, prevention, and therapeutics developed in Switzerland. They are a testimony to the vitality of the Swiss high-tech and innovation clusters.

How has the coronavirus affected trade between Switzerland and Japan?

Although Switzerland’s trade balance with Japan is still positive, we have witnessed a small contraction in Swiss exports to Japan, while Japanese exports to Switzerland have grown, especially in the field of pharmaceuticals.

In terms of sectors that have proven resilient, we can cite Swiss exports in food and luxury goods. Organic chemicals and coffee even grew from 2019 to 2020. On the investment front, we are seeing a growing interest in the Swiss technology sector. Our Swiss Business Hub has been receiving more enquiries since the start of the pandemic.

What are your hopes for Switzerland–Japan relations once we finally get through this time of uncertainty?

Our work as diplomats thrives through in-person encounters and people-to-people exchanges. Therefore, I am first and foremost looking forward to the resumption of physical events, meetings, and exchanges at the bilateral level, as well as for exchanges to resume between sister cities, regions, and, of course, enterprises. Direct human interactions are vital for societies to thrive.

Furthermore, Japan and Switzerland share many values and objectives in the area of sustainability, as well as engagement with the international order based on the rule of law. I look forward to deepening our long-standing friendship around these important topics, including through official thematic dialogues. 

“Direct human interactions are vital for societies to thrive”