“Does Swiss agriculture have to accept losses so that the Mercosur states can grow? A call to Paraguay shows that this is definitely not about international solidarity”. Agronomist and university lecturer Miguel Lovera “harshly criticises the free trade plans. […] Selling more beef helps the agricultural sector – but it is controlled by transnational corporations like Cargill, says Lovera. Increased demand for beef and soya from Europe would make it more difficult for the peasantry to sustain a vital size of land. In addition, the environment would suffer damage from increasing deforestation.”
* Swiss Weekly Magazine“
“Only a few prospects in global competition are left for the variety of small-structured farms in Switzerland with their traditionally cultivated summering areas.”
Schweizerischer Alpwirtschaftlicher Verband SAV
(Translation Current Concerns)
What is more important for our country: expansion of export markets for industry and large corporations or protection of Swiss farmers? Should Switzerland go into free trade agreements including agricultural products and thus help industry to increase its exports? Or should it support healthy and sustainable domestic food production and apply the same yardstick to imported products by means of correspondingly high customs tariffs?
Serious decisions are pending in this area. In the spring session, the Council of States commented on the “Fair Food Initiative” and the “Initiative for Food Sovereignty”. The referendum will still take place this year. The Federal Council is negotiating free trade agreements with various states, for example with Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the Mercosur states (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay). The agricultural agreement with the EU, which the Federal Council has long been aiming for, is part of its current negotiating dossier.
In fact, however, an either/or question misses the point. Of course, Switzerland as a location for business should prosper – which has been the case for a long time – of course Switzerland as a small state in the heart of Europe is open to the world and always in cooperation and exchange with other countries and their companies. But the incliniation of some politicians and association leaders to “open markets” in order to be able to participate in the world of boundless globalised corporations has nothing to do with responsibility for Switzerland or the well-being of the population. The market economy must remain socially embedded, and agriculture is an indispensable part of it. It exists not only for its own sake, but also as a mainstay for the highest possible self-sufficiency and thus as a prerequisite for the independence and sovereignty of the country, as far as it is at all possible in today’s world. Only on this basis can we as citizens and consumers also monitor the health and sustainability of agricultural production.
On 27 February 2018, the Council of States, as second chamber, rejected the Fair Food Initiative (“for healthy, environmentally friendly and fairly produced food”) massively with 32 to 3 votes1 on 12 March, the initiative “for food sovereignty, agriculture affects us all” even unanimously.2 This is intended to complete the trickery of the Federal Council and parliamentary majority, which unfortunately led on 24 September 2017 to a “yes” by the citizens to the counter-proposal to the initiative of the Farmers’ Union.3 Each of the two current initiatives can prevent the opening of borders for free trade in agriculture. We citizens have the opportunity to stop the disastrous line of approach of the Federal Council and Parliament with a “Yes” to the Fair Food Initiative and/or to the Initiative for Food Security – before the end of this year.
In its “Synopsis for the mid-term development of agricultural policy” of 1 November 20174, the Federal Council presents on 85 pages its visions for the future of Switzerland and its agriculture, which it strives for together with its administrative team and the heads of several trade associations and think tanks such as Avenir Suisse.
It reads: “AP22+ (Agricultural Policy after 2022] is developed for a period in which bilateral and regional free trade agreements are negotiated between Switzerland (or EFTA) and third party countries or groups of countries (for example Mercosur)”. (p. 50) “The trade barriers for agricultural goods are to be reduced through mutual market opening within the framework of free trade agreements in order to create new export potential for agricultural products, foodstuffs and industrial products”. (Synopsis, p. 49)
Switzerland, with its small-scale agriculture and high standards of environmental protection and animal welfare, has to change and integrate into the boundless globalised world by means of so-called “free trade agreements” – which in reality lead away from the freedom and strong political rights of the Swiss population. To open up the market to the Mercosur countries alone would mean a further severe slump for Swiss agricultural production.
In a way these agreements would be a test run for the long-planned agricultural agreement with the EU, which has been placed on hold since 2010 “due to open institutional questions and internal political resistance”. (Synopsis, p. 46) Today it is part of the ongoing negotiations with Brussels. The Federal Council is also considering joining TTIP if the EU and the USA still reach a trade agreement. (synopsis, p. 47) Opening up our borders to a “partner” who, by definition, builds its relations with other states on a win-lose strategy? Rather a genuine free trade with the USA, which runs perfectly today without any agreement, so National Councillor Maya Graf in the telecast SRF-Arena of 2 March 2018.
According to the Federal Council, they should “stand their ground in more open markets” by means of so-called structural change, in which half of them is to give up their family business (and go on the dole? or mow the lawn of golf courses?), while the other half should cultivate areas twice as large and would have correspondingly lower costs thanks to the legendary but unrealistic “fusion synergies”. (Synopsis, p. 53) The bonmot of Schneider-Ammann has become famous, that for the same area it took only one tractor instead of two …
In fact, according to the Federal Council’s market opening scenarios (with Mercosur and especially with the EU), Swiss farmers would have nothing more to laugh about: Domestic production prices would collapse massively and at the same time the federal government’s financial support for agriculture would be limited to 5 to 10 years and reduced linearly to zero during this period. (Synopsis, pp. 52–55) The farmers’ income would then “recover relatively quickly due to structural changes” – that is, because there would only be half as many farms with twice the area! (Synopsis, p. 59)
What a mockery to expect us to play such number games just to wear down the population for so-called “free trade agreements” which have nothing to do with freedom. What disregard for Swiss farmers! As if the importance of agriculture alone could be measured by its share (below 1%) of the GDP …
The EFTA states (Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland) have had a cooperation agreement with Mercosur states (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and then Venezuela) since 2000.5 Trade has developed continuously since then. Just because the EU Commission wants a comprehensive free trade agreement with Mercosur, should Switzerland join? Not a very convincing argument!
In fact, Swiss industrial exports to the Mercosur countries are substantial, while the value of imports is much lower.
Extracts from the Swiss balance of trade:
– Swiss exports to Argentina 2017: 711 million euros (of which pharmaceutical products 407 million, machinery 72 million, watches 41 million […])
– Swiss imports from Argentina 2017: 87 million euros (including beverages, spirits, vinegar 17 million, meat 13 million, cereals 6.4 million, specialities such as honey 3.4 million) http://trade.efta.int/#/country-graph/CH/AR/2017/HS2
– Swiss exports to Brazil 2017: 2009 million euros (of which pharmaceutical products 1012 million, organic chemicals 457 million, machinery 134 million)
– Swiss imports from Brazil 2017: 514 million euros (including coffee, tea, maté, spices 148 million, meat 50 million)
It is understandable that the South Americans want to sell more agricultural products to Switzerland. It also makes sense to meet our demand for coffee, tea or spices from Brazil and to supplement our domestic grain production with imports from Argentina. On the other hand, it would be absurd to buy large quantities of beef or chicken in the Mercosur countries, because we have enough of that ourselves. In addition, our animal welfare and quality regulations are much stricter. The “Synopsis” assumes that prices for beef will fall by 18 per cent and for chicken by 12 per cent (Synopsis, p. 54) – catastrophic for Swiss producers, especially for mountain farmers. Apparently, however, the farmers in the Mercosur states would also have little to gain from an agreement. (see p. 4 “Warning …”) •
1 sda message. Debate in the Council of States, 27.02.2018. Fair Food Initiative of the Greens comes to vote by people without a counter-proposal.
3 See “Food security requires healthy domestic production by a strong Swiss agriculture”. Current Concerns No. 21 of 10 September 2017 [https://www.zeit-fragen.ch/en/numbers/2017/no-21-10-september-2017/food-security-requires-healthy-domestic-production-by-a-strong-swiss-agriculture.html]; “Food security for the third time – let’s give it a chance!” Current Concerns No. 31/2017 from 15.12.2017 [https://www.zeit-fragen.ch/en/numbers/2017/no-3115-december-2017/food-security-initiatives-for-the-third-time-lets-give-it-a-chance.html]
4 https://www.blw.admin.ch/blw/de/home/politik/agrarpolitik/gesamtschau.html. quoted: Gesamtschau (Synopsis)
5 Press release of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs of 12.12.2000
mw. As a parliamentarian and member of the Green Party Maya Graf has been fighting for the promotion of healthy and sustainable production for years. She was significantly involved in the GM (genetically modified)-free initiative in 2005 which was accepted with 55,7 % of all votes and by all cantons and has saved us from GM-food until today. Today she is co-president of the Fair Food Initiative committee. Like many members of the Green Party Maya Graf opposes an agriculture agreement with the EU and other states. Current Concerns had the opportunity to pose some questions to Maya Graf concerning the current agricultural politics.
Current Concerns: Ms Graf, why was the counterproposal to the fair-food initiative* rejected in both councils?
Maya Graf: There are different reasons. Already the Federal Council unfortunately renounced a counterproposal and an indirect counterproposal (amendments). The economy and the major distributors resist to accept new regulations. Unfortunately it is also a matter of ideology (left-green against right) what is absolutely not understandable because the Fair Food Initiative doesn’t want prohibitions but the promotion of sustainably produced food in-country and from abroad. It promotes the competition for quality instead of ruinous price dumping at the expense of man, environment and animal. We import 60 % of our daily food. We have a responsibility.
Was one reason for the refusal of the counterproposal that it could be accepted by the people?
No, I think the bourgeois majority in Federal Council and parliament is convinced that the Fair-Food-Initiative doesn’t come through in a referendum. It’s true that initiatives in this domain unfortunately have difficulties. Besides the GM-initiative 2005 which was broad-based, no initiative has been successful. But the Fair Food Initiative is very much appreciated because the citizens want healthy and fair produced food and want to be informed transparently. For many people, in particular young people, today it makes a difference what we eat, where the food comes from and how it is produced on site.
How do you in comparison to that explain the very clear vote on the motion Grin (to take palm oil out of the negotiations with Malaysia)?
The palm oil matter is politically broad based because it links environmental and developmental organisations with rural organisations in Switzerland. These have different interests. Left-green doesn’t want to have any destruction of the environment and the rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia. The peasants don’t want competition by palm oil to their rape seed oil cultivated and worked up in Switzerland. Common interest is, not to weaken the peasantry (peasant families) neither in Malaysia/Indonesia nor in Switzerland and to advocate together for a sustainable development here and everywhere.
Will the palm oil discussion contribute that the Mercosur negotiations in the Councils will be pursued more critically?
Palm oil does not matter concerning the content of Mercosur. But yes, with this vote the National Council has shown that it is definitely critical of the free trade. And it has signalised that the Federal Council by all means must realise the new Article 104 a lit. d in the case of new free trade agreements. This says that in the case of transboundary commercial relations in the food and agricultural sector the sustainable development has to be taken into account. In the world of today ,trade politics can’t only be calculated economically. The consequences for the general society, on natural resources and our climate are the order of the day. And Switzerland has committed itself thereto with the Paris climate protection agreement and the implementation of the UN-sustainability goals as a whole.
Thank you Ms National Councillor for this conversation.
*The Fair Food Initiative was launched by the Green Party
(Interview: Marianne Wüthrich)
mw. When it became concrete, the National Council gasped what most parliamentarians did not want to admit in the fundamental debate on food initiatives and put a stop to the import of palm oil from Malaysia by a large majority.
Understandably, Swiss rape and sunflower producers are resisting the import of large quantities of palm oil from Malaysia. Moreover, the cultivation of palm oil according to the United Nations is also the main cause for the deforestation of the rainforest there and for the expulsion of the local population from their land.
With these reasons, National Councillor Jean-Pierre Grin (SVP, VD) presented a motion entitled “In negotiations with Malaysia, the Federal Council must exempt palm oil from the free trade agreement” (16.3332), which was adopted by a large majority of the National Council in the spring session. With 140 “Yes“ against 35 “No” (with 10 abstentions) almost all councils from left to right – with the exception of the FDP – voted for the exclusion of palm oil from the contract on 28 February 2018. Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann defended himself in vain with the warning that Switzerland could remain outside if the EU concluded a similar agreement with Malaysia.
It is to be hoped that the Council of States will support the clear majority of the National Council in the summer session. (See interview with National Councillor Maya Graf)
It is bad enough what would happen to Swiss farmers and processors with agricultural free trade with Malaysia or Mercosur. An EU agreement on agriculture would have a much worse effect. This is because all areas of agricultural production would be affected (around 7 per cent of GDP, i.e. also important for the economic location).
In the “Synopsis”, the Federal Council announces its monstrous scenarios in a cool manner: “Scenario 1: Complete market opening in the agricultural sector within the framework of a free trade agreement with the EU”. That means “[...] that the border protection in the agricultural sector towards the EU will be completely dismantled within one year. As a result, all trade in cultural products between Switzerland and the EU countries will be duty-free without a transition phase and the prices of imports of comparable aggricultural goods will largely fall to EU levels”. The consequences: “In this scenario, domestic producer prices of important agricultural goods […] will fall between 21% and 53% (milk: – 21%; chicken: – 29%; wheat: – 38%; tomatoes: – 45%; beef: – 53%).”. (Synopsis, p. 52)
According to scenario 2, border protection would not be abolished within one year, but halved – what is to come later is concealed by the Federal Council (Synopsis, p. 54).
Imagine this disaster! Not only is some wheat or (palm) oil coming in, the Swiss agricultural market is being flooded with all fresh and processed food from the 28 EU countries that we also produce here. In this “free competition”, our farmers, despite all the “innovations” recommended by the Federal Council and despite “structural change”, could not possibly keep up – not only because of our incomparably higher living and wage costs, but also because of the strict environmental and animal protection laws that the people want. Because all the waste from industrial animal factories and genetic engineering food, which is banned here for good reasons, would also come in here.
But it gets even worse: The Federal Council intends to completely abolish the financial support for farmers within a few years: “In the first year of the implementation of the border opening, the financial volume of the accompanying measures will amount to CHF 600 million. This support will [...] be reduced linearly within ten years (i.e. reduced by 60 million annually).” (Synopsis, p. 52) According to scenario 2,300 million would be reduced to 0 in 5 years. No further comment required.
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