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National Council wants to relax customs declaration requirements for goods

In future, goods that are not subject to duty will be exempt from the obligation to declare. This was decided by the National Council on Wednesday as part of the major customs reform. The left wing of the Council and the Federal Council warned of the consequences to no avail.

With 115 votes in favor, 76 against and one abstention, the Grand Chamber approved the proposal of its Economic Affairs Committee (WAK-N). Its spokesperson Markus Ritter (center/SG) justified the system change with the desired reduction of bureaucratic hurdles. The current nationwide registration requirement is "just work that leads to nothing - except additional work for importers and exporters".

The SP, Greens and GLP argued unsuccessfully for the status quo. Balthasar Glättli (Greens/ZH) saw nothing less than the basic functioning of customs at risk. If only dutiable goods had to be declared, smuggling would become child's play. He also feared a massive slump in customs revenue. Sophie Michaud Gigon (Greens/VD) spoke of a "completely crazy proposal".

Karin Keller-Sutter, the Finance Minister responsible for customs, pointed out that the comprehensive declaration of goods is the basis for the digitization of customs as desired by the reform. "Otherwise there would be no data available and controls would have to be carried out manually."

Keller-Sutter stated that the implementation of the decision would probably slow down the movement of goods and increase bureaucracy. Exactly the opposite was claimed by the victorious conservative majority in the National Council.

Freedom of choice for customs clearance

The upper chamber also deviated from the Federal Council's draft on other points. For example, exporters and importers of goods should be able to decide in future whether they want to handle customs clearance themselves. Both transport companies and other service providers should be prohibited from charging the consignees for customs clearance.

According to Ritter, this is a concern of the trade. "We are not targeting consumers." According to Keller-Sutter, the flow of goods could come to a standstill until it is clear who is registering the goods. The majority in the National Council referred the matter to the Council of States, which could thoroughly re-examine the new article.

Discussion about duty-free warehouse

New provisions on duty-free warehouses were also controversial. The left wing of the Council wanted to ensure that the federal government would have to provide information on the beneficial owners of goods in such warehouses in future. However, this motion failed.

Jacqueline Badran (SP/ZH) argued unsuccessfully that immense assets exist in bonded warehouses. If there is no indication of the beneficial owners, Switzerland could be misused as a hiding place for assets. "In Switzerland, we know the names of the cows, but not the owners of billions of euros in bonded warehouses."

Leo Müller (center/LU) countered that the owners of goods in bonded warehouses are already recorded today. "Bonded warehouses are not lawless spaces," said Beat Walti (FDP/ZH). Keller-Sutter promised to clarify this issue in the upcoming revision of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

Duty to consult extended

The National Council enshrined in the Customs Act that the BAZG must be present in bonded warehouses with its own staff. Green Party President Glättli warned of "massive additional personnel costs". The Federal Office was already suffering from a chronic shortage of staff. "Border guards would be better deployed at the border," said Federal Councillor Keller-Sutter.

The National Council also decided in the Customs Act that the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) must consult interested parties before issuing a permit for the import of milk, skimmed milk and wheat for inward processing.

Proposer Daniela Schneeberger (FDP/BL) wrote of a "compromise between the industry partners", which takes account of the new concerns of agricultural circles, without breaking the earlier compromise on the "Schoggi Act" replacement solution.

Consultation on the Customs Act will continue in the afternoon.

©Keystone/SDA

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