Strategically located in central west Europe, Switzerland shares its land borders with Austria, France, Germany and Liechtenstein.
Switzerland shipped $319 billion in 2020. That dollar amount reflects a 5.3% increase since 2016 and a 1.5% uptick from 2019 to 2020. That figure also represents roughly 1.7% of overall global exports one year earlier in 2019 estimated at $18.709 trillion.
Adopting a continental lens, 47.7% of Switzerland’s exports by value were delivered to fellow European countries while 24.6% were sold to North American importers. Switzerland shipped another 24.3% worth of goods to Asia. Smaller percentages went to Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.5%), Africa (1.1%) then Oceania led by Australia (0.8%).
Switzerland’s Top 15 Trading Partners
Below is a list showcasing 15 of Switzerland’s top trading partners in terms of customers for Swiss exports during 2020. That is, countries that imported the most Swiss shipments by dollar value. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Swiss exports.
- United States: US$73 billion (22.9% of total Swiss exports)
- Germany: $49.1 billion (15.4%)
- China: $17.5 billion (5.5%)
- United Kingdom: $16.9 billion (5.3%)
- France: $16.5 billion (5.2%)
- Italy: $15.5 billion (4.9%)
- India: $11.7 billion (3.7%)
- Austria: $8.2 billion (2.6%)
- Spain: $8 billion (2.5%)
- Japan: $7.5 billion (2.4%)
- Singapore: $6.8 billion (2.1%)
- Netherlands: $6.7 billion (2.1%)
- Hong Kong: $6.3 billion (2%)
- Turkey: $6.3 billion (2%)
- Slovenia: $5.2 billion (1.6%)
Four-fifths (80%) of Swiss exports in 2020 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
Turkey increased its imports from Switzerland at the fastest rate, up 87.6% in value from 2019 to 2020. Swiss exports to the United States grew by 66.1% trailed by Slovenia’s 57% gain and the 27.8% uptick for Austria.
Leading declines was a -40.2% year-over-year drop for the United Kingdom.
As defined by Investopedia, a country whose total value of all imported goods is higher than its value of all exports is said to have a negative trade balance or deficit.
It would be unrealistic for any exporting nation to expect across-the-board positive trade balances with all its importing partners. Similarly, that export country doesn’t necessarily post a negative trade balance with each individual partner with which it exchanges exports and imports.
In 2020, Switzerland incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries.
- Italy: -US$8.2 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2020)
- Germany: -$7.7 billion
- United Arab Emirates: -$7 billion
- Thailand: -$6 billion
- Hong Kong: -$5.8 billion
- Ireland: -$3.5 billion
- Burkina Faso: -$3.2 billion
- Ghana: -$3 billion
- Vietnam: -$2.3 billion
- Indonesia: -$2.2 billion
Among Switzerland’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Switzerland’s deficits with Indonesia (up 354.2%), Burkina Faso (up 89.4%) and Thailand (up 70.8%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
In addition, Swiss trade balances with Hong Kong went from a $6.1 billion surplus in 2019 to a -$5.8 billion deficit in 2020.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Switzerland’s competitive disadvantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Switzerland to develop country-specific strategies to strengthen its overall position in international trade.
Overall, Switzerland posted a $27.9 billion trade surplus for 2020. That positive balance represents a -24.4% decrease from $36.9 billion in black ink one year earlier.
Based on Investopedia’s definition of net importer, a country whose total value of all imported goods is lower than its value of all exports is said to have a positive trade balance or surplus.
Switzerland incurred the highest trade surpluses with the following countries.
- United States: US$52 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2020)
- India: $9.8 billion
- Turkey: $4.4 billion
- Slovenia: $4 billion
- Singapore: $2.7 billion
- Canada: $2.3 billion
- Japan: $2.2 billion
- South Korea: $2.1 billion
- Russia: $1.7 billion
- Netherlands: $1.3 billion
Among Switzerland’s trading partners that cause the greatest positive trade balances, Swiss surpluses with Turkey (up 157.7%), Netherlands (up 143.3%) and the United States (up 107.5%) grew at the fastest pace from 2019 to 2020.
These positive cashflow streams clearly indicate Switzerland’s competitive advantages with the above countries, but also represent key opportunities for Switzerland to develop country-specific strategies to optimize its overall position in international trade.
Companies Servicing Swiss Trading Partners
Forty-eight corporations based in Switzerland rank among Forbes Global 2000. Below is a sample of the major Swiss companies that Forbes included:
- Nestlé (food processing)
- Novartis (pharmaceuticals)
- Roche Holding (pharmaceuticals)
- ABB Group (automation technology)
- Holcim (construction materials)
- Glencore International (diversified metals)
- Syngenta (pesticides, specialized chemicals)
- TE Connectivity (electronics)
- Transocean (offshore drilling equipment)
- Swatch Group (clothing, watches)
- Weatherford International (oil field equipment)
- Schindler Group (escalators, elevators)
Global trade intelligence firm Zepol also documents the following companies as examples of Swiss exporters.
- Baselux Sa Lugano Branch (heterocyclic compounds, printed documents)
- Novametal Sa Switzerland (stainless steel wire, plastic bobbins, aluminum wire)
- Olivado Tanlay (vegetable oil, honey, coconut oil)
- Polarome Switzerland (ketones, acetic acid esthers, acyclic polyhyric acids)
- Starbucks Coffee Trading (coffee, tea, paper bags)
See also Switzerland’s Top 10 Major Export Companies, Switzerland’s Top 10 Imports, Switzerland’s Top 10 Exports and Top EU Export Countries
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on February 15, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on February 15, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 15, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Switzerland. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on February 15, 2021