The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Level of duty-free imports controversial in the consultation process

The federal government's plan to halve the tax-free limit at customs from CHF 300 to CHF 150 does not meet with unanimous approval. The SP and consumer protection groups reject it. However, it does not go far enough for the retail trade and the economy.

The Federal Department of Finance (FDF) is proposing to reduce the tax-free limit for travel to CHF 150 per person from January 1, 2025. An even lower amount would disproportionately increase the cost of customs clearance and checks at border crossings, the FDF wrote at the opening of the consultation, which ended on Friday. More smuggling would also have to be expected.

The Swiss Retail Federation, on the other hand, is calling for a value-free limit of 50 francs, as the current system puts the Swiss retail trade at a disadvantage. The reduction to 150 francs would not solve the problems. The feared administrative burden could be offset with the "QuickZoll" application, which makes it easy to digitally self-declare goods before crossing the border.

For the business umbrella organization Economiesuisse, the economic and administrative benefits of the planned adjustment are insufficient. The reduction of the exemption limit fails to address the core problem of Switzerland as a high-price island. For Economiesuisse, the exemption threshold should be at or close to zero francs from a "purely tax-systematic" perspective. Economiesuisse also fears a large administrative burden.

The Swiss Trade Association (SGV) agrees with the proposal, but suggests that the total value for the tax exemption should be set at CHF 50, as does the trade association of the border canton of Basel Stadt. The Organization of Swiss Milk Producers (Swissmilk) "expressly" welcomes the reduction.

SP and consumer protection against high-price island

For the SP, such a measure only penalizes consumers. There are people who are dependent on being able to buy food abroad because they cannot afford the high prices in Switzerland. The party also fears bureaucratization.

For these reasons, the Foundation for Consumer Protection is also against the reduction and has therefore launched a petition. The planned measure would lead to increased traffic and a bureaucratization of the import of goods "at the expense of customs staff and the population".

FDP and SVP agree

According to the FDP, the project will help to strengthen the current "state-distorted competitiveness of border regions". The party emphasizes the need for the least bureaucratic implementation possible for self-customs clearance via the "QuickZoll" app. The SVP and the Greens also support the proposal.

With this proposal, the FDF wants to implement a parliamentary demand. The motion approved by the Councillors calls for the value exemption limit to be adjusted to the export de minimis limit of the country of origin. This is the minimum purchase amount abroad that must be reached per sales transaction or per invoice for the VAT to be refunded.

The Federal Council had recommended that the initiatives adopted by parliament be rejected. The border cantons of Thurgau and St. Gallen, on the other hand, have submitted standing initiatives on the issue of tax justice. They are calling for the abolition of the tax-free threshold.

Competitive advantage abroad

When importing into Switzerland, purchases must currently be taxed if they exceed a total value of CHF 300. Shopping tourists in Germany can still buy between 50 euros and 150 francs VAT-free. The situation is similar in Austria and France. The de minimis limit there is 75 euros and 100 euros respectively. Italy reduced the de minimis limit from 155 to 70 euros as of February 1.

The consultation was opened on November 30, 2023. The FDF plans to enable customs clearance to be processed digitally for the most part in future. The "QuickZoll" customs clearance application is therefore to be adapted.

©Keystone/SDA

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