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Cheap imports put Swiss winemakers over barrel

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Photo: Dani Simmonds
08:10 CEST+02:00
Winemakers from western Switzerland rolled 40 tractors and several wine barrels along the streets of Bern on Monday in a bid to gain political support for their industry.

The vintners want federal politicians to take action to protect Swiss wine against cheap foreign imports that are threatening to put them out of business.

Around 100 of them decanted their concerns in front of the parliament building as MPs returned from the summer holidays.

The producers, coming from regions such as Valais and Lavaux in the canton of Vaud, want changes to the regulations on importing wine to favour merchants who promote local vintages.

With this year’s grape harvest about to be picked, the wine growers are worried about being unable to sell their products.

“The cellars are full,” the group said in a statement issued for their demonstration, referring to wine unsold from last year.

“There are no buyers. There are no prices.”

Swiss vintners face higher expenses for land and wages than other wine-producing countries.

Because of its relatively high cost, little Swiss wine is exported outside of the country.

But now, domestic sales of wine from Switzerland are proving difficult, particularly given the low rate against the Swiss franc of the euro.

The euro is used by major wine-producing countries such as France, Italy and Spain, which export wine to Switzerland.

A bumper Swiss harvest of grapes last year hasn’t helped.

The vintners were unable to meet as they had hoped with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to discuss their concerns.

Widmer-Schlumpf’s office explained that it only received the request on Friday and that her schedule had already been filled in with other commitments, according to ATS, the Swiss news agency.

But politicians from the left and right have already come out in support of the lobbyists.

Oskar Freysinger, an MP from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, filed a motion in May seeking an increase in tariffs on imported red and white wine to aid the domestic industry.

Thirty MPs supported the motion, which would link tariffs to support given to Swiss wine growers.

The federal cabinet argues that, while it is sympathetic to the cause of Swiss wine producers, the action it can take is limited because of agreements with the World Trade Organization.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the annual volume of wine imported to Switzerland has remained stable at between 150 and 165 million litres.

But domestic consumption of Swiss wine has dropped from similar levels by 35 million litres.

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