Swiss National DayFriday, August 1, 2014
Alps and Pampas have similar perspective
Departing ambassador highlights double tax agreement, environment
Next week Swiss Ambassador Johannes Matyassy ends his 42-month mission here (he gives the exact dates of arrival etc. with the precision of a Swiss watch) but with the satisfaction of having sewn up a double taxation agreement with Argentina which has proved elusive for years.
The Herald expressed curiosity about an agreement which in some ways seems to defy the history of both countries. But Matyassy explained that the Swiss policy of banking secrecy was already beginning to change 10-15 years ago when the agreement with Argentina was first being negotiated —a tradition which had protected Jewish accounts from Nazism in its time had become abused to protect tax evasion, money-laundering and the hoarding of ill-gotten gains.
The first such agreement was drafted at the start of the century but never ratified here. It was amended in 2005 to make it less advantageous to Switzerland but it really took wing in 2012 during Matyassy’s mission — the departing envoy attributes this success to a Swiss formula of tackling the problems first and the legal technicalities later. The agreement includes Article 26 of the OCDE already contained in more than 40 such accords worldwide whereby it should adapt to any new OCDE standard (which has recently been defined).
In an interview to mark today’s national day (the 723rd anniversary of the Helvetic Confederation), Matyassy takes pride in both the Swiss community here and his country’s commercial presence. There are 16,000 Swiss passport-holders here (Socialist leader Hermes Binner among them) but several times that number can claim some Swiss origin — mainly from a mass 1856-8 immigration into the Paraná basin and another interwar wave coming down from Brazil.
There are about 80 Swiss companies here representing all sectors except the financial (there used to be a strong presence of merchant banking and asset management companies but they left over the last decade). These provide some 30,000 jobs while Switzerland is Argentina’s 7th most important overseas investor. Matyassy would like to underline that virtually all of these companies have been here for a long time and that none of them are leaving because they are used to this country and its cycles, being here for the long term.
But while Swiss companies fit readily enough into the productive model, distributors have their problems — those importing Swiss watches, for example, have had a difficult time ever since the law obliging them to export to an equal value.
Of all Matyassy’s activities here, he is perhaps proudest of his Eco-Suiza environmental programme, consisting of knowledge exchange and networking in specific areas. The first year’s theme was the environmental aspects of tunnels (highly relevant to both countries with the St. Gotthard Pass and the Andes), the second year architecture and sustainable construction, the third year the use of water and the fourth renewable energy.
But there are also been a variety of programmes in all sorts of areas — Bertrand Picard, the pioneer of solar aircraft, was here in April; a touring exhibition of the pope’s Swiss Guard (also the nationality of the nuncio here); a Boca house for artists in residence is being developed; Jungbürgerfeier drawing youth and Swiss alumni meetings for networking purposes, etc. etc.
Human rights is a strong area of bilateral ties, especially after Matyassy’s predecessor Carla da Ponte. As from this year there will be a science attaché at the Embassy as part of a global policy. Switzerland needs to stake out its presence because it belongs to no bloc or international organization (only joining the United Nations in this century, Matyassy points out.
Arriving here for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s highly successful re-election campaign in 2011 with a “brilliant strategy” (whose change he questions), Matyassy, who has a background of political party leadership in Switzerland, has enjoyed following the political scene ever since and now finds Argentina in “interesting times” whose outcome he will not be here to see.
Last but not least, the departing envoy recalls a memorable occasion exactly one month ago — the World Cup clash between Argentina and Switzerland, for whose viewing he invited Argentine friends to the Embassy. A fair result in the final analysis, he concludes, but perhaps the finest World Cup match Switzerland has ever played.