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Trade agreement Critics of Mercosur deal name conditions for support

Slabs of meat

Slabs of beef hang inside a lorry in Buenos Aires, Swiss farmers fear a deal with the Mercosur countries would result in cheap meat flooding the Swiss market.

(Keystone)

A coalition of Swiss farming organisations, consumers and NGOs says it is in favour of a free trade agreement between Switzerland and the four Mercosur countries: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. But it is demanding binding criteria concerning sustainability. 

Such an agreement would have repercussions “not only on farming families and the environment in the Mercosur states, but also on agriculture, jobs in the food industry and consumers in Switzerland”, participants said at a press conference in Bern on Monday. 

The Mercosur coalition said it was imperative that any agreement not jeopardise sensitive indigenous agricultural products and consumer protection. They want politicians and members of society to discuss the expected repercussions and come up with “reasonable solutions”. 

The newly created coalition includes the Swiss Farmers’ Union, the consumer federation for French-speaking Switzerland, Greenpeace, Public Eye and Bread for All. 

To identify the risks before an agreement is reached, the coalition is asking the Federal Council to carry out an independent sustainability analysis. The “transparent and impartial” results will serve as a basis for the negotiations, it said. 

Benefits and concerns 

As a member of EFTAexternal link, Switzerland has been negotiating a free trade agreement with the Mercosur states since June 2017. 

Supporters say this should give Swiss exporters access to a market of 260 million consumers, but the Swiss agricultural sector has concerns. While an agreement should make exports easier for Swiss machine and services industries, South American countries will be able to increase their meat sales in Switzerland in exchange. 

The Swiss Farmers’ Union had previously been against a deal, fearing pressure on prices of beef, chicken, oil seeds and sugar owing to more imports from South America.

Keytone-SDA/ts

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