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EU aims for Swiss customs agreement

The European budget commissioner, Michaele Schreyer, says she hopes the European Union and Switzerland can reach an agreement next year to rein in customs fraud.

In an interview published in the Swiss Sunday newspaper, SonntagsZeitung, she said that customs fraud and cheating on the EU's value-added tax generally cost it "billions" in budget revenue.

The EU wanted to negotiate an agreement "as quickly as possible", Schreyer said. "With support on both sides, we could start negotiations....in 2001 and conclude them."

She said that because Switzerland was a non-EU member located in the heart of the EU bloc, it was a key country for such a deal.

"Our goal is prevention," Schreyer said, adding that cooperation should be so tight as to discourage criminals from even considering Switzerland as a transit country or base.

Among its demands, the EU would like to gain better Swiss access for its independent fraud-busting unit, OLAF.

Schreyer said that currently OLAF could only investigate Swiss cases "when those parties residing in Switzerland which were being investigated gave their approval.

"That is a very major restriction," she said.

swissinfo with agencies

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