BaselWorld and HKTDC Fight Swiss Over SARS Ban

May 15, 2003

BaselWorld and HKTDC Fight Swiss Over SARS Ban

The first volleys have been fired in the coming fight against the Swiss government for its ban of almost 400 Asian exhibitors at BaselWorld, April 3-10, over fears concerning the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Both MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd., which manages BaselWorld, and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council filed appeals to the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs May 14, a necessary prelude to widely expected lawsuits for damages and compensation from the various parties hurt by the last-minute ban, which occurred after most of the exhibitors affected were already in Switzerland for BaselWorld.

BaselWorld management cited several factors in its appeal, including that "the measures enacted made no contribution whatsoever to the protection of the population," said the fair, because the order permitted the Asian companies to stay in Switzerland, do business outside the exhibition halls, and even attend the fair as visitors. The only ban was on exhibiting. BaselWorld also declared false the public health office's assessment "sales discussions in exhibition stands is equivalent to that of nurse/patient relations in the hospital." A leading Swiss hygiene specialist backed up BaselWorld's complaints, saying the ban was unnecessary when infection-control measures could easily have been instituted.

The HKTDC appeal, like the BaselWorld appeal, cited its financial losses, which the Trade Development Council had earlier estimated included an $8 million loss for direct costs to exhibit, plus a 20-30% loss of total business for the year.

HKTDC also announced it is uncertain whether it will attend next year's BaselWorld. The Swiss Basel management is still reviewing whether it will even mount an exhibition in Zurich, where the Hong Kong delegation was to be located, in 2004. Attendance was poor at the site without the large delegation.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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