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Winegrowers lead tractor protest to Bern

Winegrowers say cheap imports are strangling their business

(Keystone)

Swiss winegrowers descended on the capital, Bern, in a fleet of 100 tractors to demonstrate against competition from cheaper imports. The winegrowers are demanding that the government take urgent political measures to protect them.

The Swiss Winegrowers Association and the Swiss Farmers Association say the problem can be attributed to the lifting of protective import tariffs, a step which has led to a flood of foreign wines on the Swiss market.

The demonstrators are mainly from the western part of Switzerland. Participant Laurent Carr of the Mont sur Rolle region of Lake Geneva says the high cost of Swiss wine production is another problem.

Swiss vintners are forced to produce according to strict environmental laws, which adds to the costs, along with higher Swiss wages and social benefits.

The result is that Swiss consumers favour the cheaper imports. Figures for the 2000-2001 growing year show that the consumption of Swiss white wine fell by 4.7 per cent, compared with an increase of 7.4 per cent for imported whites.

Growers want quotas

Carr says winegrowers want the government to set quotas on imports. For every litre of Swiss wine, one litre of imported wine would be admitted, under their proposal. They are also calling for the introduction of a federal quota in Switzerland which would reduce production to one litre of wine for every square metre.

"We also want the government to take immediate steps to reduce the stocks of our wines," said Carr. It could do this by buying the surplus of Swiss wines, mainly white wine, for conversion into industrial alcohol.

The Economics Minister, Pascal Couchepin, says the litre for a litre option is not credible.

"We can't dictate to the Swiss consumer that he should drink what he does not want to drink."

Carr admits that a litre for a litre could be "a bit" restrictive, but says something has to be done about imports that are not properly controlled.

by Paul Sufrin


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