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Switzerland ready for talks with EU on savings tax

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(GENEVA) - Switzerland said Tuesday that it was ready to boost cooperation with the European Union in the latter's battle with international tax evasion, provided Brussels made a formal request for talks.

Swiss authorities said they had "taken note" of a fresh negotiating mandate adopted by finance ministers from across the 27-nation EU.

"Back in 2009, Switzerland had already declared its willingness in principle to discuss extending the EU savings tax agreement so as to close loopholes," the Swiss finance ministry said in a statement.

"As soon as the request from the EU to conduct negotiations with Switzerland on extending the savings tax agreement has been submitted, the Federal Council will examine the request and then respond," it added.

The Federal Council is the seven-member cabinet of Switzerland, which remains staunchly outside the EU but is surrounded by the bloc's members and has tight economic ties with them.

Often criticised for allowing EU residents to stash what may be undeclared cash in its banks, Switzerland has over recent years made deals with the EU to tax the savings of such depositors and pay the funds anonymously back to member states.

The country's financial sector is a traditional refuge in tough times, and with the crisis afflicting Europe stoking the debate, Brussels has pushed the Swiss to go further by revealing information about clients automatically.

Switzerland, however, has insisted that any efforts in its part must be matched by those of other financial centres both within the EU and beyond.

"In its assessment of future frameworks, Switzerland will use developments in important international financial centres outside the EU in addition to developments in the EU," the ministry said.

"Switzerland will also collaborate with the OECD bodies which are involved in drawing up global standards for the exchange of information," it added, referring to the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The tax evasion issue has sparked bitter debate within the EU itself, though resistance has been chipped away.

Austria has been seeking guarantees before it drops resistance to the automatic sharing of bank records.

Luxembourg was long the other main obstacle to such transparency covering savers agreed by the rest of the EU fully five years ago, but it has said it will now ease its banking secrecy restrictions.

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