Strategically located in central west Europe, Switzerland shares its land borders with Austria, France, Germany and Liechtenstein.
Switzerland shipped US$310.5 billion worth of products around the globe in 2018. That figure represents roughly 1.8% of overall global exports for 2017 estimated at $17.546 trillion (as of February 4, 2019).
From a continental perspective, 45.9% of Swiss exports by value are delivered to fellow European countries while 35.1% are sold to Asian importers. Switzerland ships another 14.9% to North America.
Smaller percentages went to Latin America (1.8%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean, Africa (1.2%) and Oceania (1%) led by Australia.
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 2018. That is, countries that imported the most Swiss shipments by dollar value. Also shown is each import country’s percentage of total Swiss exports.
- Germany: US$47.5 billion (15.3% of Switzerland’s total exports)
- United States: $40.9 billion (13.2%)
- China: $30.3 billion (9.8%)
- France: $19.7 billion (6.4%)
- India: $17.8 billion (5.7%)
- Italy: $16.6 billion (5.3%)
- Hong Kong: $16.1 billion (5.2%)
- United Kingdom: $10.7 billion (3.4%)
- Netherlands: $8.2 billion (2.6%)
- Japan: $7.9 billion (2.6%)
- Austria: $7.6 billion (2.5%)
- Spain: $6.9 billion (2.2%)
- Singapore: $6.8 billion (2.2%)
- United Arab Emirates: $4.9 billion (1.6%)
- Belgium: $4.5 billion (1.4%)
About four-fifths (79.4%) of Swiss exports in 2018 were delivered to the above 15 trade partners.
The Netherlands increased its imports from Switzerland at the fastest rate, up 52.1% in value from 2017 to 2018. Swiss exports to China grew by 23.9% trailed by Spain’s 22.6% gain and the 20.9% uptick for the United Arab Emirates.
Leading decliners was a -37% year-over-year drop for the United Kingdom and -35.2% downturn for Belgium.
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 2018, Switzerland incurred the highest trade deficits with the following countries:
- United Kingdom: -US$15.8 billion (country-specific trade deficit in 2018)
- Germany: -$10.3 billion
- Ireland: -$7.4 billion
- United Arab Emirates: -$5.4 billion
- Italy: -$4.7 billion
- Uzbekistan: -$2.4 billion
- Peru: -$2.1 billion
- Ghana: -$1.7 billion
- South Africa: -$1.6 billion
- Burkina Faso: -$1.5 billion
Among Switzerland’s trading partners that cause the greatest negative trade balances, Swiss deficits with United Kingdom (up 541.2%), South Africa (up 229.8%) and Burkina Faso (up 14.8%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.
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 $31.5 billion trade surplus for 2018. That dollar amount represents a -0.9% drop from the $31.8 billion deficit for 2017.
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$19.6 billion (country-specific trade surplus in 2018)
- India: $15.9 billion
- China: $15.6 billion
- Hong Kong: $12.1 billion
- Singapore: $4.1 billion
- Japan: $3.2 billion
- South Korea: $2.8 billion
- Netherlands: $2.7 billion
- Canada: $2 billion
- Russia: $1.97 billion
Among Switzerland’s trading partners that generate the greatest positive trade balances, Swiss surpluses with the Netherlands (up 2,964%), Russia (up 123.3%) and Hong Kong (up 83.5%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.
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 FactbookField Listing: Imports – Commodities. Accessed on February 4, 2019
Forbes 2015 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 24, 2016
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on September 3, 2019
Investopedia, Net Importer Definition. Accessed on April 24, 2016
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on April 24, 2016