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The Swiss Farmers’ Union: Sustainability reduced to absurdity

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Photo: World Bank/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Uniterre | 4 February 2021

The Swiss Farmers’ Union: Sustainability reduced to absurdity

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By deciding on 25 January 2021 to support the free trade agreement with Indonesia, the Swiss Farmers’ Union (USP) is jeopardising food security in a context where sustainability is not guaranteed!

The FTA with Indonesia showcases a supposed sustainability, but it is only a large-scale scam: deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture, the plundering of mining resources, the destruction of biodiversity, the displacement of indigenous and farming communities, the use of toxic pesticides, exploitation and child labour remain the rule. Vague sustainability clauses cannot be defended before an international arbitration court. In addition, there are no effective control measures or sanctions.

Swiss standards have nothing in common with Indonesian standards. Demands and requirements in terms of animal welfare, protection of biodiversity, soil and water for domestic agriculture are increasing. Cheap palm oil jeopardises the economic, social and ecological sustainability of peasant agriculture in Switzerland and Indonesia.

The pressure on Swiss oilseed production will increase and jeopardise the urgently needed distribution of added value between the actors in the sectors. At 1 CHF/kg, palm oil is by far the cheapest and most produced vegetable oil on the world market. The price of domestic rapeseed and sunflower oil is CHF 2.60 per kg. On top of the price of palm oil, 1.28 CHF/kg of customs duties are added, as well as 0.14 CHF of guarantee funds. Together with the average tariff reduction of 35% provided for in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), this translates into a reduction of CHF 0.40/kg on the price of CHF 2.42/kg. In other words, with a price of 2.02 CHF/kg, palm oil is considerably cheaper. This will have a negative impact on thousands of farmers. The 35% tariff reduction concerns 12,500 tonnes of palm oil, which represents almost half of all palm oil imports into Switzerland. Moreover, this tariff giveaway is a clear incentive for over-exploitation in Indonesia and for maximising the margins of the food industry.

Strong, binding and governmental sustainability standards are needed to ensure fair competition and sustainable food systems. The combination of sustainability standards with massive tariff reductions leads to the false conclusion that sustainability costs nothing and sets a dangerous precedent for all future free trade agreements by increasing import volumes and tariff reductions. Rudi Berli, secretary of the farmers’ union Uniterre, criticises: "By linking free trade and sustainability, the Swiss Farmers’ Association is making a dishonest bargain with Economiesuisse and SECO. The USP is seriously contravening its own initiative on food security by not taking sustainability seriously".

Instead of promoting sustainable regional, national and European food supply, strengthening food sovereignty and rural agriculture, world trade is being stimulated, with serious consequences for people, the climate and the environment.

Press release of 26 January 2021

 source: Uniterre