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Swiss winemakers see red over duty-free plan

Malcolm Curtis · 22 Jul 2013, 10:53

Published: 22 Jul 2013 10:53 GMT+02:00

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The federal customs administration last month put a proposal out for consultation that would allow residents to bring into the country up to 20 litres of wine per person per day from foreign countries, 10 times more than the current limit.

The proposal, which would take effect on January 1st 2014, has alarmed Swiss wine producers, who are already struggling to compete with imports that are lower priced even when duties are applied.

For customs, the goal is to reduce the administrative workload and to improve the traffic flow at border entry points.

But Swiss winemakers are seeing red over the proposal, particularly in Valais, the country’s largest producer of wine.

“It’s impossible that we can accept that, this proposal is completely unacceptable,” Christoph Darbellay, a Swiss MP from the canton who is also president of the Christian Democratic Party, told Le Matin in a report published online on Monday.

Darbellay is known as a staunch defender of Swiss wine, battling to ensure that it is served at official receptions in Bern.

He noted that 20 litres amounted to half the average consumption of wine by Swiss residents in a year.

“Swiss viticulture finds itself in an unprecedented crisis and the still want to accentuate the pressure by putting it up against foreign wine sold at cheaply.”

Darbellay called the proposal a “knife in the back” for Swiss agriculture.

Patrice Walpen, manager of Favre Vins, a Sion-based winery, echoed Darbellay’s concerns.

“I am not for protectionism at all costs, but in this case it’s not just opening a barrier,” he told Le Matin.

“There is simply no longer any barrier.”

Walpen noted that 62 percent of the wine consumed in Switzerland is already imported.

Cross-border shopping is already costing billions for the Swiss and Switzerland is surrounding by major wine-producing regions, he indicated.

Story continues below…

Marek Moos, in charge of marketing at Chez Gilliard Vins in Sion, said the customs proposal is a harsh blow that comes at a time when many producers a struggling to deal with extensive hail damage on top of the ongoing economic problems, Le Matin reported.

Swiss winemakers have been hurt by the drop in value of the euro against the Swiss franc, which makes wine from countries such as Spain, France and Italy even cheaper than before.

The Swiss wine industry depends almost exclusively on its domestic market, with very little product produced for export.

The customs administration’s period for consultation for the duty-free wine proposal runs until August 13th.

Malcolm Curtis (news@thelocal.ch)

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