EU packaging regulation triggers uncertainty

Swiss chocolate manufacturer Camille Bloch is one company which has recently opened a subsidiary in Germany in order to comply with a new EU food-labelling regulation Keystone

This content was published on December 7, 2014 - 17:03 and agencies

The European Union is demanding that from December 13 all packaged food in Switzerland must carry the address of an EU producer or seller. But many details remain unclear and the government has yet to find a pragmatic solution. 

A spokesman for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) said SECO was in contact with the EU, which says the step is about consumer protection, in the search for a solution that prevents harm to Swiss exports. 

Ultimately the EU is pushing for a wide-ranging treaty for the food sector, but because no treaties are planned for the near future – and because the new regulation comes into force in less than a week – Switzerland is looking for a temporary solution. 

Part of the problem is that the details of the implementation remain open, causing legal uncertainty. 

“Companies don’t know whether they should wait or be doing something,” said Lorenz Hirt from the food industry’s umbrella group, FIAL. 

EU subsidiaries 

Concretely, there are two possibilities open to Swiss companies to comply with the EU regulation. They can either work with a service provider within the EU, or they   can open an EU subsidiary. 

FIAL says only the latter is “legally watertight”, with Hirt putting the cost of creating a subsidiary at several thousand francs. 

If the EU rigorously enforces the regulation, things could get tricky for those Swiss companies that haven’t taken any action. 

In addition to prosecution, Hirt believes incorrectly labelled goods could be turned away at the EU border. It’s also possible that products would have to be taken off supermarket shelves. 

In the talks, SECO highlighted the fact that the regulation disadvantages Swiss companies compared with their EU competition. But because Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it can only demand equal treatment as part of a bilateral agreement. Switzerland is currently regarded as a third country, according to SECO. 

Neither SECO nor FIAL says how many Swiss companies would be affected, but the biggest hit are thought to be medium-sized companies without any infrastructure in the EU but which have a certain export volume.

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