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Couchepin refuses to cede to winegrowers' demands

Swiss wine growers called off their protest after their demands for import quotas were rejected

(Keystone Archive)

A group of Swiss winegrowers has failed in its bid to convince the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, to impose quotas on the import of wines.

During a meeting with the group on Thursday, Couchepin said he understood the concerns of Swiss winegrowers but would not meet their demands.

The winegrowers, who have been protesting in the capital, Bern since Monday, come mainly from the western part of Switzerland. They say they have been hampered by the high cost of Swiss wine production.

"The Swiss Confederation cannot intervene to help entrepreneurs in difficulty," Couchepin told the group's leader, Willy Cretegny.

The minister added that Swiss vintners had had time to prepare themselves for the liberalisation of the markets in 2000.

Strict environmental laws

Swiss vintners argue they are forced to adhere to strict environmental laws and are expected to pay higher wages than their counterparts abroad, both of which add to their expenses.

Couchepin also rejected a proposal tabled by the group for a federal quota for Switzerland which would reduce production to one litre of wine for every square metre.

The winemakers decided to abandon their protest after the group's meeting with Couchepin ended without agreement.

But Fernand Cuche, secretary of the Union of Swiss Wine Producers, called on the vintners to demonstrate again on November 10 to mark the planned World Trade Organization ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar.

Earlier in the week, Couchepin said he did not believe Switzerland's wine industry was under threat. However, he did say he understood the pain and hardship that winegrowers in certain regions had been experiencing as a result of overproduction in the past two years.

swissinfo with agencies

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