Massimo Baggi, Swiss Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, says the Confederation has contributed to improving the human rights situation in the region. The diplomat is excited about the Swiss pavilion at Expo Dubai 2020, which will lead visitors through a sea of mist, before emerging into the Swiss mountains.
This content was published on October 01, 2021 – 14:00
Switzerland is playing a leading role in Expo Dubai 2020, which runs from Friday October 1 to March 31, 2022, after being postponed for a year due to the pandemic. The presence of 25 million visitors is expected.
Through reflectionsa fully sustainable and reusable pavilion designed by OOS studios in Zurich in collaboration with studios Bellprat Partner and Lorenzo Eugster, the Confederation focuses on culture, natural beauty and technological innovation.
Presentation (in Italian) of the Swiss pavilion at Dubai Expo. Information program of the Swiss public television RSI.
Massimo Baggi, Swiss Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, explains Switzerland’s participation in the Great World Expo and its role in the Gulf countries.
SWI swissinfo.ch: Switzerland’s presence at Expo Dubai is not limited to the pavilion. What’s going on behind the scenes?
Massimo Baggi: In fact, our presence is not only based on the Swiss pavilion reflections. We also have the responsibility of chairing the coordination committee of all participating countries. About a year ago, the International Exhibition Bureau created a committee which is in fact its privileged interlocutor and asked Switzerland to play this role.
As with Expo Milan 2015, Switzerland was the first country to join the Dubai Expo. Is there an explanation for this will and this determination of the Confederation to participate?
There are two reasons: the first is that we strongly believe in this type of event in which governments, NGOs and individuals participate and which offer a platform to discuss and tackle major global challenges together. In Milan, for example, we were able to discuss important topics such as food safety and waste.
Dubai is located at a strategic point in the Middle East which faces particular challenges and our aim is also to make our pavilion a meeting point for visitors from all neighboring countries.
The second reason is that the Emirates are an important partner, not only from an economic point of view.
Being the first to confirm membership has a series of very specific repercussions, such as being able to choose the location of the pavilion itself.
About 25 million visitors are expected at the exhibition, 30% from the United Arab Emirates and the remaining 70% from abroad. How is it possible to attract so many people in the current situation?
As President of the Coordinating Committee, we seek accessibility to the country, so that people can move around without too many complications, always respecting the restrictions due to the pandemic. We then took steps to make the exhibition attractive and I must say that our pavilion is potentially one of the most interesting, with a good mix of tradition, innovation, sensory experiences and conviviality.
Let’s talk about the pavilion reflections: the name has a double meaning. What sets it apart?
It is a four-storey pavilion, with an imposing mirrored facade that reflects a red carpet with the Swiss cross and which we hope will attract the attention of participants. Upon entering, the guest is transported into a sensory experience: a walk along a path in the Swiss mountains through a thick sea of fog that first makes the visitor lose orientation, only to reappear later in the idyllic landscape of our mountains… Swiss proposals, solutions and innovations in various fields are examined below.
The United Arab Emirates is Switzerland’s largest trading partner in the Middle East. How is this relationship based? What are the bilateral relations between the two politically and culturally very different countries?
Relations with the Emirates cover several areas and we hope that the Expo can take them further. This country is our main trading partner in the whole region. It should be mentioned that a diaspora of more than 3,000 Swiss citizens, mainly businessmen and women with their families, lives here, mainly in Dubai. While around 100,000 Swiss men and women travel to the Emirates each year for tourism or business.
There are 200 Swiss companies active in the region and it is also for this reason that at the Consulate General in Dubai there is a Swiss business center which promotes small and medium-sized Swiss companies.
On the other hand, every year, 140,000 Emirati citizens visit Switzerland for tourism or to invest in real estate. In addition, we have significant cooperation in the scientific field thanks to the presence of important Swiss universities, such as the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL).
And the trade balance?
We are very active in the market for luxury goods, precision instruments and gold. In 2019, Swiss exports amounted to 3.7 billion francs and imports to 14.9 billion francs.
What are Switzerland’s priorities in the Gulf countries?
Switzerland has a strategy approved by the Federal Council [Gobierno] for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa region in which three axes are mentioned: peace, security and human rights. These are important issues, just think of open conflicts and complex situations like Yemen, Syria or Libya. And then there are areas such as economy, science and sustainable development, as well as projects in collaboration with these countries.
Particular attention is paid to the question of human rights and cooperation: how does Switzerland intervene in this field?
First of all, human rights are part of the regular political dialogue that we have with all the Gulf countries. Switzerland pays particular attention to issues such as freedom of expression, the death penalty, torture and the rights of minorities. Then there are areas in which we also work in a very concrete way. For example, with the Emirates and Bahrain, where I am an ambassador, we are discussing gender issues: within the framework of the Expo, we have started a collaboration with the thematic pavilion dedicated to women and we will also organize events together.
We are also working on issues of tolerance and inter-religious dialogue with certain groups in the Emirates. Thanks also to our role in the organization of the Expo, we were able to include them in the event.
What about migrant workers? According to Amnesty International’s 2019-2020 report, the sponsorship system makes them vulnerable to forms of exploitation and abuse.
This is an important issue for all Gulf countries, especially when big events like the Expo take place. With other countries, we have tried to improve standards, succeeding in increasing security conditions and rights in some cases.
To what extent is the lack of respect for human rights in the Emirates compatible with the continuation of commercial relations?
We are confident in dialogue and in the fact that our relations with countries, including trade relations, contribute to strengthening human rights. We have a pragmatic approach, we start from the reality that we find on the ground and we try to work with the institutions. In some areas, I think we managed to make improvements that are also quite significant. I also believe that the Emirates want to offer an international image that allows them to grow and develop beyond their own borders.
Translated from French by Marcela Águila Rubín
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