Three sectors push trade surplus to new record

Despite a soaring franc and a troubled global economy, Switzerland registered a record trade surplus of 24.4 billion francs last year, the federal customs administration (EZV) says.

Three sectors push trade surplus to new record
The watch industry was one of three sectors driving Swiss exports last year. Photo: Mike Chapman

Swiss foreign trade managed to withstand the headwinds, although momentum only picked up in the second half of the year, the EZV said in news release issued on Tuesday.

Both exports and imports increased slightly with the trade surplus rising 860 billion francs from 2011.

Just three industries — watches, pharmaceuticals and food — fueled the growth in exports, which grew overall by two percent to 201 billion francs, with all of the growth outside Europe.

The Swiss watch industry, with exports rising 11 percent to a record 21.4 billion francs, recorded sales that were a third higher than five years earlier, according to the figures.

The chemical and pharmaceutical industries were the biggest contributor to Swiss exports, valued at almost 79 billion francs, up 5.8 percent from the previous year.

By contrast, the machine and electronic industry saw exports tumble 9.6 percent to 33.5 billion francs, falling back to a level not seen since 2004.

In this category, sales of textile machines saw the biggest drop, of 28 percent, to just over one billion francs.

Sales to foreign countries of Swiss food, beverages and tobacco rose 3.4 percent to almost 7.7 billion francs.

The customs administration said ailing European Union demand (down one percent) was more than offset by additional exports to the US (up 12 percent), Canada (up nine percent), Latin America (up around 10 percent) and other parts of the world.

Exports to China, however, fell by 12 percent, while those to India dropped by 10 percent.

Imports rose 1.2 percent to 177 billion francs, led by consumer goods, which rose more than three percent to 78 billion francs.

Car imports increased less than one percent to more than 10 billion francs.

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Swiss weapons exports up 38 percent despite pandemic

Switzerland’s weapons exports have seen a 38 percent increase in 2020, according to official government figures.

Swiss weapons exports up 38 percent despite pandemic
Swiss weapons exports are on track for their highest year on record. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland exported CHF690 worth of weapons over the first nine months of 2020. That’s a 38 percent increase on the CHF500 million sold over the corresponding period in 2019. 

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) published the figures on Tuesday

The biggest customers for Swiss weaponry were Denmark, Indonesia and Germany. 

In total, 76 countries bought Swiss weapons during the period. 

According to current figures, weapons exports are on track to be the highest in Swiss history – beating the record of CHF893 million set in 2011. 

‘Death business is flourishing’ 

The news has been heavily criticised by a number of non-government organisations critical of weapons being sold to countries at war or who may use them against their own citizens. 

The Organisation for Switzerland without an Army (GSOA) and Terre des Hommes have been critical of the figures, particularly as the industry has called for a decrease in regulation in recent years. 

GSOA wrote in a statement “the death business is flourishing”. 

Saudi Arabia – currently involved in a conflict in Yemen – appear on the list, along with Brazil. Weapons opponents are concerned the Swiss exports could be used in the country’s slums, Der Bund reports