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Competition watchdog calls for open markets

Competition is popular in theory but not in practice swissinfo.ch

The Swiss Competition Commission has followed the OECD in demanding more competition in the country.

This content was published on April 4, 2006 - 15:06

At its annual news conference in Bern on Tuesday, it said Swiss markets should be opened up immediately for products authorised in the European Union.

The commission's president, Walter Stoffel, explained that Swiss consumers were paying too much for products as a result of technical trade barriers.

He sided with the Paris-based OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in calling for Switzerland to open up its market rapidly according to the so-called "Cassis de Dijon" principle - under which a product authorised on one EU country may be sold in any other.

"All products that are authorised in the EU should basically also be authorised in Switzerland," he commented.

"This is possible under the existing free trade agreement of 1972 between Switzerland and the EU."

This, he claimed, would accelerate Swiss economic growth.

Cheaper prices

Stoffel said that no long negotiations would be needed and Swiss consumers would as a result soon benefit from cheaper prices.

He also noted that export-oriented Swiss companies currently had to produce their goods according to Swiss regulations for the domestic market and EU regulations for the EU market.

This was a factor that made the products unnecessarily more expensive.

"From a competition viewpoint we should encourage Swiss companies to be in a position to produce for the Swiss and European markets using the same rules," added Stoffel.

Both parliament and the government are in favour of applying the "Cassis de Dijon" principle but its introduction is proving problematic.

Exceptions

In a first consultation on a revision of the law on technical trade barriers, the federal authorities handed in 128 requests to be considered exceptions, explained Economics Ministry spokesman Christoph Hans, confirming Sunday newspaper reports.

Hans said that 22 cases had now been settled but this left 106 cases pending – "a number that is far too high". He added that such a figure threatened to sabotage the revision of the law.

The Competition Commission recommends that exceptions should be limited to those "indispensable for health protection, the environment and consumer rights".

Stoffel cited, for example, the obligation to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Competition Commission consists of 15 members who are elected by the government.
The Federal Cartel Law demands that the majority of the members of the Competition Commission are independent experts – usually law and economics professors.
It acts when competition is hindered in an unlawful way through concerted practice, abuse of dominant position or merger.

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In brief

A report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development last Friday warned that Switzerland would not remain among the world's richest countries if it didn't carry out more reforms and open its markets to competition.

OECD experts noted that Swiss economic growth had been well below average since 1980.

They said that the product market was over-regulated compared with neighbouring countries.

It reckons the Swiss government should push more ambitious reforms and get public backing for these changes by promoting their benefits.

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