Italy has blocked a lorry at its border and confiscated disinfectant en route to Switzerland. The Swiss commercial transport association is talking of “state theft”, and Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has reportedly intervened.
Swiss company Victory Switzerland imports items from all over the world. Since last week, however, Italy has been holding a lorry with its paid-for products at the Swiss-Italian border at Domodossola.
Victory Switzerland’s managing director, Daniel Gerber, told swissinfo.ch that the lorry was carrying disinfectant hand gel, which Italian customs officials confiscated “on the spot”.
The Italian customs authorities justified the seizure on the authority of a special coronavirus emergency decree. According to the document they have given to hauliers, the goods are delivered to the civil defence unit based in Domodossola, which distributes them to hospitals and municipalities as needed.
Victory Switzerland had ordered the products from German company Gifts & Beauty Handels and paid more than CHF30,000 ($30,800) for them three weeks ago. However, they were manufactured in Italy.
According to the Italian authorities, the manufacturers or sellers of the confiscated products would be compensated. Gerber hopes it can claim the CHF30,000 back from the German company. However, he said he would have to write off the costs for the transport that hadn’t been completed plus lost profits.
Victory Switzerland had experienced the same problem in Hamburg at the beginning of March, when the German authorities held back 314,000 protective masks on their way to Switzerland from China. Following Swiss intervention, the German government released the shipment two days later.
The problem with Italy has become a top priority for the Swiss commercial transport association, ASTAG. Its president, Adrian Amstutz, a former senior member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, has personally taken up the cause of the Swiss companies affected and has used his direct line to the federal parliament.
“The Italian-speaking foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, who is responsible for this, is now taking care of the matter,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Amstutz said he was outraged by his neighbour’s “high-handed seizure of medical products ordered and paid for by Switzerland”.
“This is state theft,” he said, taking the opportunity to rail against Switzerland’s bilateral accords with the European Union.
“This shows the value of these highly praised agreements with the EU. Like Schengen/Dublin they are fair-weather constructs that don’t work, especially in times of crisis when it really matters.”
Amstutz explained that hauliers were obviously interested in having borders that are as open as possible for freight traffic, but for this to happen, the countries concerned would have to talk directly to each other – as is now becoming clear – and not via Brussels.
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) confirmed to swissinfo.ch that it was aware of the case and was in contact with the Italian authorities.
(Translated from German by Thomas Stephens), swissinfo.ch