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Tax row overshadows Rome talks

Economics Minister, Pascal Couchepin, says the Italy's tax amnesty is unfair

On the eve of Swiss-Italian talks, the Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, has renewed criticism of Italy's ongoing tax amnesty.

The Italian amnesty – believed to have triggered billions in capital flight out of Swiss banks – is among a number of issues clouding Couchepin’s visit to Rome, where he is holding talks with the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The amnesty was introduced last year to encourage Italians to repatriate some of their savings abroad – estimated to be around €400 billion (SFr586 billion).

Switzerland fears the amnesty unfairly targets Swiss banks, and could lead to an exodus of funds to the south.

“Not fair”

Couchepin told Italian finance newspaper “Il Sole 24 Ore” on Wednesday that the amnesty was “unfair”, and had portrayed Switzerland as a tax haven.

“On the contrary. We are a country with our own standards and a good economy,” Couchepin said.

Along with the tax amnesty, the talks are expected to deal with another politically sensitive issue – that of a stalled cross-border legal cooperation agreement between the two countries.

Switzerland has refused to ratify the new laws – which would enable prosecutors to share cross-border evidence – after accusing the Berlusconi government of undermining the spirit of a 1998 cooperation treaty.

Fix your mess

The Swiss cabinet believes the agreement cannot be signed until Berlusconi resolves the legal tangle surrounding corruption allegations levelled against him and his media empire.

Couchepin told Italian media on Wednesday that it was still too early to ratify the legal agreement.

Italy remains one of Switzerland’s most important trading partners, which underlines the importance of the visit.

In 2000, Italy was Switzerland’s top export market, and the country’s third-biggest importer. Human links between the two nations are also strong – more than 300,000 Italians live in Switzerland, and 42,000 Swiss live in Italy.

Further meetings are planned between Couchepin and Italian health minister Girolamo Sirchia, agriculture minister Giovanni Alemanno and industry minister Antonio Marzano.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR