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Business backs EU treaty

Captains of Swiss industry have called on the Swiss to vote in favour of the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union when they go to the ballot box on May 21.

This content was published on March 31, 2000 - 16:46

Captains of Swiss industry have called on the Swiss to vote in favour of the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union when they go to the ballot box on May 21.

The accords were worked out during long negotiations after the electorate turned down membership of the European Economic Area in 1992.

The agreements cover the free movement of persons, civil aviation, overland transport, agriculture, technical barriers to trade, public procurement and research.

Emphasising the importance of the vote at a news conference in Berne on Friday, the president of the Swiss Trade and Industry Association, Andres Leuenberger (pictured), said approval was vital for the Swiss economy.

"The EU is Switzerland's main trading partner. Two thirds of Swiss exports go to EU countries and four-fifths of imports come from there. One franc out of three gained in Switzerland is the result of trade with the EU," he said.

Leuenberger said that despite the free trade agreement signed with the European Community in 1972, Swiss companies were not in a position now to compete on an equal footing with EU enterprises.

"It is therefore more urgent than ever that we find a negotiated solution to cover relations with Europe," he said.

The cost of the agreements is put at SFr800 million francs and the Swiss committee of the economy supporting them says that this has to be seen in relation to the benefits. It estimates that the Swiss economy would grow by two per cent over the next ten years, or by some SFr8 billion francs.

"The bilateral accords are a tailor-made solution for Switzerland: a compromise between what is economically desirable and what is politically possible," Leuenberger said.

Critics of the accords have complained that the free movement of people would lead to a flood of foreign workers coming into Switzerland and a situation encouraging wage dumping. However, the president of the Swiss Employers' Association, Fritz Blaser, said there was no cause for alarm as a number of control measures would be put in place.

"We are convinced that the free movement of people will not harm our labour market. On the contrary, it will offer professional opportunities for Swiss abroad and allow our companies, both in and outside Switzerland, to compete on an equal footing with European enterprises," he said.

By Robert Brookes

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