The government has presented a controversial white paper for the gradual liberalisation of Switzerland’s agriculture market in a bid to improve international competitiveness without undermining the survival of the country’s farming sector.
Outlining the plan’s four priorities, Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said customs duties on imported agricultural products would need to be cut in order to agree or amend treaties with various countries, notably in South and North America as well as Asia.
He added that the agricultural sector had to adapt to environmental standards and continue implementing reforms to make production in Switzerland more efficient.
There are currently about 54,000 farms in Switzerland and the agriculture sector accounts for less than 1% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Switzerland imports between 40% and 50% of food and its economy depends to a large degree on exports.
In an effort to counter stiff opposition from the Swiss farmers’ groups, Schneider-Ammann stressed the importance of the agriculture sector and the high quality of Swiss products.
“Our proposals are not aimed against farmers, but to support the country’s economy,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.
And though he said it was not an option to delay further reforms, he pledged to consult closely with farmers’ organisations and to consider boosting a system of direct government subsidies for the sector.
The proposals will be put to a broad consultation before the government will present a bill to parliament, in 2019.