BERN, SWITZERLAND – Swiss wine producers have enjoyed the fruits of three excellent harvests in a row, with 2011 promising to make it four, but this doesn’t mean it’s easy to sell wine at a fair price, some argue.
A group of 15 Geneva wine producers have banded together to start a Swiss national popular initiative that would protect some agricultural products against the open market. They say the move is necessary since the Cassis de Dijon principle went into effect in 2009, allowing European Union wines free entry into Switzerland through bilateral agreements.
Swiss wines, which have a good reputation in international wine circles, are competitive price-wise with European wines of comparable quality, but they have trouble competing against the lower end of the market—the very low-cost mass-produced wines from huge estates that are worked by machine.
Hardest hit may be producers in border regions such as Geneva, where cheap wines from Italy and southern France can be brought in inexpensively.
The widespread notion that the Swiss drink all their own wine and have none left for export is gradually being debunked, as tiny holdings give way to producers of a size capable of export and top quality producers find niches abroad. But the home market remains crucial for most producers, many of whom sell only through small outlets to avoid pressure from supermarket chains on their small profit margins.
Protectionism versus EU bilateral agreement
The Geneva grower-producers, under the leadership of Willy Cretegny, have filed an initiative: “”Pour une économie utile à tous”. It is backed by two key Geneva wine groups, the Association genevoise des vignerons encaveurs and the Inter-profession des vins de Genève. It calls for the Swiss Confederation to:
- legislate against unfair competition and dumping
- legislate to protect Swiss products through customs duties
- limit the quantity of products that can be imported
- oblige imported products to meet the same social, environmental and production standards that Swiss producers must meet.
The initiative also calls for the federal government to take steps to prevent players who dominate the market from “abusive price-setting” practices and to fight the negative economic and social implications of price wars.
They have until the end of 2013 to collect 100, 000 signatures to put their initiative to the vote, with the entire process taking about five years.