China and Switzerland sign off on preliminary free trade deal

China has signed off on a preliminary free trade deal with Switzerland. The deal could become Beijing's first with a major Western economy.

AFP reports that China is hoping to sell more textiles and agricultural products, while Switzerland wants to sell more machine tools, pharmaceuticals, dairy products and luxury goods.

Commenting on the agreement, China's Premier Li Keqiang said, "This free trade deal is the first between China and a continental European economy, and the first with one of the 20 leading economies of the globe,"

"China, a country with a vast population and huge currency reserves, is increasingly internationalising."

He added that the signing of this preliminary agreement paves the way for a final signing in Beijing in July.

Swiss President Ueli Maurer described the signing as a "real milestone".

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU) and is one of few Western countries that has a positive trade balance with China.

Bilateral trade between Switzerland and China was worth $US26.3 billion in 2012 and $US22.8 billion of that figure was made up of Swiss exports to China.

This latest signing in Switzerland follows the free trade deal China signed with Iceland a month ago. Like Switzerland, Iceland is not a member of the EU.

The Iceland deal was China's first with a European country.  Beijing hopes to reach a similar deal with the EU.