Swiss trade hurt by US security measures

Swiss exports to the US are affected by the tighter security measures

Stricter security measures imposed by the United States in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks have had a negative impact on Swiss businesses, according to a Swiss parliamentarian.

This content was published on March 11, 2004 - 11:05

Rolf Büttiker has appealed to the government in Bern to assess the situation and lend support to affected companies.

Although he does not dispute the fact that tighter security is needed in the fight against terrorism, Büttiker argues that the measures taken by the US have hampered trade.

“It is small and medium-sized companies that suffer most from these measures,” Büttiker told swissinfo.

One new measure was the introduction of the Container Security Initiative to prevent dangerous goods, such as weapons of mass destruction, entering the country.

But it is not only companies that have been affected, as some Swiss have complained that Christmas parcels sent to the US never arrived.

Bioterrorism act

Last December Washington brought in its Bioterrorism Act, which requires food companies exporting to the US to register their products and their consignments.

When the act was first announced, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) described the move as unreasonable and discriminating. Since then, there has been little change in Bern’s position.

“We still believe that these measures are over the top,” Seco’s Franziska Zimmermann told swissinfo.

Although the bureaucracy related to the new measures is not as bad as had been expected, Seco says problems have arisen.

One problem, according to Zimmermann, is that the internet site that informs companies about the necessary steps does not work properly.

Data protection

Büttiker sees another concern with the strict security measures. “There is a big problem concerning data protection,” he said.

The Swiss government is also concerned about this matter and is not satisfied with the explanations the US has provided so far.

“We’ll remain on the case,” the Swiss president, Joseph Deiss, said in response to Büttiker’s appeal.

One of the concerns is the fact that Washington requires airlines to provide them with data on every person who flies to the US.

“Wherever data is collected there is the danger of the data being exploited,” Zimmermann told swissinfo.

Seco is keeping an eye on developments and says it is trying to resolve the problems on a bilateral basis.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has also questioned the restrictive US policies.

During the WTO’s most recent examination of US economic policy in January, Switzerland and other WTO members expressed concerns about the effects the new US measures could have on world trade.

Trade relations

Responding to Büttiker’s appeal, the Swiss government emphasised that Switzerland had to support the international fight against terrorism.

However, it acknowledged that such measures could have a negative effect on the economy and international trade relations.

“Such instruments must not be abused as a way of covering up administrative protectionism,” the government said.

Switzerland has asked the US to look into the matter and at least minimize those measures that have a negative impact on trade.

But Büttiker told swissinfo he had hoped for greater support for Swiss business.

“I do not want to stir anti-Americanism, but the latest regulations restrict free trade, and they actually seem to be more protectionism than anything else.”

swissinfo, Rita Emch

In brief

In its fight against terrorism the US has introduced a series of new regulations, which have had an impact on Switzerland and other countries.

Shortly after the September 11 attacks Congress passed the “Patriot Act”, which gives the Bush administration sweeping new powers to combat terrorism.

Since then the US has passed other laws and regulations, which have affected Switzerland’s financial sector.

Swiss food companies are particularly affected by new customs requirements.

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