Swiss, Please

Free trade in cheese


Switzerland and the European Union have torn down the dairy curtain that blocked free trade in cheese. Under the agreement, first negotiated 10 years ago but in full effect only since June, Switzerland has repealed the tariffs that hiked the prices of cheeses made elsewhere in Europe. It also has removed the export subsidies that made its own cheeses cheaper outside Swiss territory.

This is significant not just for Swiss shoppers who prefer Gorgonzola to Emmental. Switzerland, The Economist notes, is the "home not just of serious cheese, but also of one of the world's most protected farm sectors." The Swiss, the magazine continues, hope that "a focus on choosy foreign buyers may turn out to be the best way to safeguard traditional producers." Instead of competing on price, Swiss producers will compete on quality and authenticity; instead of building walls, they'll build brands. In the words of Agence France Press, Swiss cheesemakers will stress "guaranteed labels of origin, unpasteurised milk and the traditional image of small scale farm production."

The Swiss experiment could have repercussions for agriculture across the European Union, where farm protectionism is almost as strong as in Switzerland. If these boutique cheeses can thrive in their market niche, other producers could take it as a sign that they too might find rewards as well as risks in free trade.