As part of the Swiss Confederation's 700th anniversary celebrations, a special debt relief loan to help poor, debt-ridden countries in the developing world was passed by Parliament in 1991. This decision was preceded by a petition by the relief agencies calling for "Debt Relief for Development", signed by a quarter of a million citizens.
The same year, the OECD passed new guidelines (the Helsinki package) to limit the effects of competition distortion brought about by export credits in international trade. The first UN "Earth Summit" was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, bringing together some 10,000 delegates from 178 countries. Following a referendum, Switzerland joined the World Bank Group the same year.
In 1994, the Federal Council adopted the North-South Guidelines, which specified that future development cooperation was to follow the five objectives of foreign policy. More attention was given to the issues of policy coherence and good governance. Switzerland (FOFEA, today SECO), together with Sweden, organised an international debt conference, regarded as a milestone in the debate on debt relief. The same year, the legislative basis was laid down for the cooperation with eastern European states.
In the mid-1990s, the FOFEA (today SECO) launched the first pilot projects to support the private sector and experimented with new guarantee instruments and new procedures to construct and operate infrastructure projects. The fifth credit facility of 1996 brought a sweeping new direction for economic and trade-policy measures.
Balance-of-payments assistance was increasingly replaced by budgetary assistance programmes geared towards poverty reduction. The cooperation with low-income countries and emerging economies was reorganised (amalgamation of South/East services) and an ISO 9000 Quality Management System was introduced. The Federal Office of Foreign Economic Affairs (FOFEA) merged with the Federal Office for the Economy and Labour in 1999 to form today's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
The Swiss vision for an approach to developing countries that relates to ‘the totality of Switzerland’s political, economic and social relations with these states’ was formulated in the North-South Guidelines in 1994. (…) However, this vision is unevenly implemented, largely because the concept of policy coherence for development is not yet widely understood (even within the administration). It needs to be more clearly distinguished from the internal coherence of development cooperation.
Peer Review of Switzerland by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), OECD, 2009