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



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Weapons exports: Switzerland may back down on relaxation of rules

The Swiss economics minister has backtracked on the relaxation of rules on arms exports in the face of pressure.

Weapons exports: Switzerland may back down on relaxation of rules

Read the latest news on this story here.

“We have a lot of discussion and have weighed up the pros and cons, and have come to conclusion that it would be neither realistic nor intelligent to push ahead with the liberalization of [weapons exports] at this this time,” said Johann Schneider-Ammann in comments quoted by the Tribune de Genève newspaper.

Ammann said external pressure had played a role in the decision. He stated the issue of weapons exports rules needed more analysis but refused to give further details.

The Swiss government said in early summer that it planned to allow the shipping of weapons to countries engaged in civil conflicts “if there is no reason to believe that the war materiel to be exported will be used in an internal armed conflict”.

The idea was to give an ailing industry a shot in the arm.

But the announcement has been met with widespread criticism with the International Committee of the Red Cross among those saying the move would threaten Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition.

The lower house of the Swiss parliament in September backed a motion that would stop the government having sole power to change Switzerland’s weapons export rules, with the senate now set to vote on the issue.

Meanwhile, a cross-party group has said it will launch a popular initiative to stop the planned relaxation of rules on weapons exports.

The comments by Switzerland’s economics minister come as Switzerland re-examines its relations with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Switzerland has suspended new arms sales to Saudi Arabia but Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick on Sunday published a photo, reportedly from late 2017, showing Saudi soldiers holding Swiss-made SG 552 rifles. Their sale to Saudi Arabia was licensed in 2006, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

Read also: Swiss arms makers using loopholes to get around weapons export rules – report