The Senate has come out in favour of allowing the parallel import from the Euorpean Union of some goods which are currently protected by patent in Switzerland.
These imports could then be sold more cheaply than the identical items made in Switzerland. However, the Senate wants pharmaceuticals to be exempted from the measure.
The other parliamentary chamber, the House of Representatives, has previously come out against easing the ban on parallel imports. It will now discuss the issue again.
Supporters of parallel imports say consumers would benefit from an easing of regulations.
The retail sector says a lifting of the ban could save up to SFr1.4 billion ($1.3 billion) per year.
Opponents, including the government, warn that patent protection is crucial to enable the country to ensure inventions, research and jobs.
The issue will go back to the House for further discussions at one of its next sessions.
Consumer organisations are considering forcing a nationwide vote to force lower import prices.
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