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Free-trade food talks begin with EU

Economics Minister Doris Leuthard has launched talks with European Union representatives aimed at fully opening food and agricultural markets between the regions.

Negotiations with Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, started in Brussels on Tuesday and are expected to last a couple of years.

The goal is to create a free-trade agreement through a reduction in taxes and tariffs levied on agricultural goods traded between Switzerland and the EU. Food safety will also be discussed.

"For us it's all about ensuring that productive agriculture and the food industry will be in a good position in eight to ten years," Leuthard said.

Swiss consumers could benefit from such an agreement with lower food costs but farmers are worried opening trade could price them out of their own markets.

Switzerland is the EU's third-largest trading partner in terms of agriculture. About 70 per cent of Swiss exports in this sector – €2.7 billion (SFr4.05 billion) worth of goods – went to the 27-nation bloc in 2007.

Switzerland imported €4.7 billion in agricultural goods produced in the EU.