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Farmers to reap harvest if EU accords approved

A Swiss farming lobby has recommended approval of a series of bilateral accords with the European Union, which will be voted on in a referendum next month.

A Swiss farming lobby has recommended approval of a series of bilateral accords with the European Union, which will be voted on in a referendum next month. The lobby said the agreement to liberalise the agricultural sector would give Swiss farmers greater access to European markets.

The deal will eliminate import duties altogether on some Swiss products, including cheese. Farmers represented in parliament said liberalisation in the sector gave Swiss farmers the chance to sell their products to neighbouring countries where people generally share the same eating habits.

"If we have good cheese, we can market it in the EU without having to worry about any trade barriers," said Toni Eberhard, an MP from the Christian Democratic Party.

The lobby said liberalisation would also lead to cheaper prices in Switzerland, but said this would not necessarily have an adverse effect on Swiss farming incomes. Greater trade liberalisation can only benefit Switzerland's export-oriented economy, Karl Tschuppert from the Radicals said. "It will no doubt be easier to win more public financing for agriculture if the Swiss economy as a whole is healthy."

A meeting of officials from Switzerland's cantons coincided with the announcement by the farming lobby. The cantons said the advantages of the seven accords, which also include deals on transport and the free movement of people, far outweighed the disadvantages.

Only far-right parties are challenging the bilateral treaties, which will be put to a nationwide vote in Switzerland on May 21. The accords also need ratification by the European Parliament and the parliament's of all 15 European Union member states.

swissinfo with agencies

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