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The State of U.S.-Swiss Relations | June 2023

Introductory remarks for “The State of U.S.-Swiss Relations” featuring former Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)


Good afternoon, and welcome to the American Enterprise Institute. Grüezi mitenand. A warm welcome as well to our online viewership.

My name is Stan Veuger, a senior fellow here at AEI, and I am delighted to introduce this event on the state of US-Swiss Relations, co-hosted by the American Swiss Foundation.

The United States and Switzerland have maintained diplomatic relations since the formation of the Swiss Confederation in the mid-19th century. Bilateral relations remain strong today and are characterized by cooperation across many different domains on the basis of shared values and long-standing cultural, personal, and economic ties.

Speaking of personal ties, my godmother and her family are long-time residents of Switzerland. I have not been to visit in Schwyz for quite some time, so I hope participating in this event earns me some points on that front. Probably not.

Today’s discussion will focus on how and where the bilateral relationship can be strengthened and deepened, but we will also touch on areas where the US may be able to learn from the Swiss model of governance.

Perhaps most saliently in the latter category, the recent shenanigans around the debt limit and the Congress’ continuing inability to return the U.S. to a sustainable fiscal trajectory illustrate that inspiration from a country with a debt to GDP ratio well below 50% is more than welcome. Switzerland and the US both organize tax collection and government spending in a relatively decentralized manner, compared to other advanced economies. Switzerland therefore has particularly relevant lessons to offer.

Turning to the shared interests of our two countries, the economic relationship between Switzerland and the US, sustained by significant trade and investment, is an important one. Something I am sure will come up in today’s conversation is whether that relationship should be strengthened through a full-fledged free-trade agreement. In these times when talk of decoupling and friendshoring sometimes feels like a justification for old-school protectionism, a push along those lines would be both refreshing and reassuring.

The US has also been a key proponent of the 2019 OECD Global Corporate Tax Deal. That deal would, through its Pillar 2, introduce a global minimum tax. Swiss voters will decide in a referendum less than two weeks from now whether to amend the Swiss Constitution in order to implement the agreement. It is of course not clear that the US itself will manage to do so.

But the relationship is not just an economic one. Switzerland is a key diplomatic partner of the US, and despite its tradition of neutrality, Switzerland has supported Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia’s war of aggression through the implementation of economic, financial, and other sanctions. I will be curious to hear from our speakers how the US and Switzerland can deepen their relationship as it relates to this and other foreign-policy objectives.

Let me in fact introduce our speakers.

Robert Giuffra, chair of the American Swiss Foundation since 2016, is Co-Chair of Sullivan & Cromwell and a partner in the firm’s litigation group. Here in DC he has served in all three branches of the federal government: as a law clerk to Chief Justice Rehnquist, as Chief Counsel of the Senate Banking Committee, and in the Reagan White House.

My colleague Rob Portman is distinguished visiting fellow in the practice of public policy here at AEI. His career in public service, distinguished indeed, included six terms in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate, representing his home state of Ohio. He also served in three presidential administrations, including as OMD director and as US trade representative. Most importantly for today’s purposes, he co-founded the congressional Swiss Caucus and served as its co-chair.