Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Sri Lanka are good. Switzerland has been carrying out a wide range of activities in Sri Lanka for many years. High-level meetings between representatives of the two countries have intensified since 2015. The Swiss cooperation strategy for Sri Lanka for the 2016–20 period aims to support the country's reform and reconciliation processes and to strengthen bilateral relations.
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Sri Lanka are good and long-standing, dating back to 1956.
The two countries have signed several agreements including a migration agreement in 2018. Sri Lanka is the only Asian country with which Switzerland has entered into such an agreement. The two countries have also engaged in regular political dialogue since 2013.
The Swiss cooperation strategy for Sri Lanka for the 2016–20 period has two key objectives:
- supporting the reform and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka,
- and strengthening bilateral relations, particularly political and economic ties, and cooperation on migration and vocational training.
In 2018, Swiss exports to Sri Lanka amounted to CHF 169.9 million and consisted mainly of precious metals, machinery and pharmaceutical products. Imports from Sri Lanka – mainly textiles, machinery and precious metals – amounted to CHF 198.6 million.
Swiss investments in Sri Lanka are mainly in the agri-food sector. Infrastructure and tourism are two other sectors with high potential for Swiss companies.
Cooperation in education, research and innovation
Researchers and artists from Sri Lanka can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
Peacebuilding and human security
Switzerland has been active in the areas of human rights and peace in Sri Lanka since 2001 and has deployed a human security advisor to the embassy in Colombo since 2003. After focusing mainly on peace policy in Sri Lanka until 2006, Switzerland has stepped up its commitment to human rights – decentralisation, constitutional reform, reconciliation, dialogue, peace processes and human security primarily. Switzerland also engages in dialogue with the Sri Lankan diaspora in order to involve them in these processes.
Development cooperation and humanitarian aid
Between 2003 and 2016, Switzerland provided humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka. Following the tsunami at the end of 2004 and the resurgence of the civil war from 2007 to 2009, Switzerland stepped up its activities, benefiting more than 50,000 people.
The SDC’s Global Programme Migration and Development (GPMD) has been active in Sri Lanka since 2010 and includes vocational training. Switzerland supports the Sri Lankan authorities in implementing legislation for migrant workers and helps local organisations improve their services for families that have been left behind. It also promotes and facilitates dialogue with the migrant workers' countries of destination as well as the reintegration of the workers on their return.
Swiss nationals in Sri Lanka
According to statistics on the Swiss abroad, 473 Swiss nationals (including 207 dual nationals) were living in Sri Lanka at the end of 2018.
In cooperation with Pro Helvetia New Delhi, the Swiss embassy has been showcasing Swiss artists at the Fairway Galle Literary Festival and the contemporary art exhibition Colomboscope for several years. Individual projects are also organised with support from Pro Helvetia.
In addition, the Swiss embassy is involved in the organisation of certain film festivals in Sri Lanka, such as the European Film Festival, the Francophone Film Festival, Cinema on the Road, the Jaffna International Cinema Festival and the Colombo International Women's Film Festival.
The Swiss embassy also organises one-off concerts and exhibitions with different cultural offices such as the Alliance Française or the Goethe Institute.
History of bilateral relations
Switzerland recognised Sri Lanka as soon as it declared independence in 1948. Diplomatic relations were established in 1956. In 1968, Switzerland dispatched the first Swiss ambassador to Colombo.
Throughout the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka, Switzerland remained committed to finding a peaceful solution and hosted peace talks in February and October 2006. Since the end of the war, Switzerland has been working to promote reconciliation through political dialogue and to improve the human rights situation. At the same time, a major reconstruction and assistance programme in aid of the civilian population has been set up by Swiss Humanitarian Aid.