Based on average exchange rates for 2020, the Swiss franc appreciated by 4.7% against the US dollar since 2016 and increased by 5.5% from 2019 to 2020. Switzerland’s stronger local currency make the Swiss Confederation’s exports paid for in weaker US dollars relatively more expensive.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 74.4% of products exported from Switzerland were bought by importers in: United States (22.9% of the global total), Germany (15.4%), China (5.5%), United Kingdom (5.3%), France (5.2%), Italy (4.9%), India (3.7%), Austria (2.6%), Spain (2.5%), Japan (2.4%), Singapore (2.1%) and the Netherlands (2.1%).
From a continental perspective, 47.7% of Switzerland 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%).
Given Switzerland’s population of 8.6 million people, its total $319 billion in 2020 exports translates to roughly $36,900 for every resident in the central European nation.
Switzerland’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups categorize the highest dollar value in Swiss global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Switzerland.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$88.2 billion (27.6% of total exports)
- Gems, precious metals: $86.2 billion (27%)
- Organic chemicals: $25.4 billion (8%)
- Machinery including computers: $21.2 billion (6.6%)
- Clocks, watches including parts: $18.2 billion (5.7%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $16.7 billion (5.2%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $12.1 billion (3.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $5 billion (1.6%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $3.8 billion (1.2%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $2.9 billion (0.9%)
Switzerland’s top 10 exports accounted for 87.7% of the overall value of its global shipments.
Organic chemicals represents the fastest-grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 15.5% year over year since 2019. In second place for improving export sales were coffee, tea and spices which was up by 14.4% led by coffee. Switzerland’s shipments of gems, precious metals posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 7.6% year over year led by gold.
The leading decliner among Switzerland’s top 10 export categories was the clocks and watches including parts category which fell -16.6%.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Switzerland’s Most Valuable Export Products further down below.
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.
The following types of Swiss product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports represent the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Pharmaceuticals: US$49.3 billion (Down by -4.2% since 2019)
- Organic chemicals: $18 billion (Up by 108.7%)
- Clocks, watches including parts: $15.4 billion (Down by -14.4%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $8.5 billion (Down by -5%)
- Perfumes, cosmetics: $2.3 billion (Up by 1.9%)
- Machinery including computers: $2.1 billion (Down by -36.5%)
- Coffee, tea, spices: $1.9 billion (Up by 14.4%)
- Base metal tools, cutlery: $881 million (Up by 7.5%)
- Tanning, dyes, paints, varnishes, ink: $747.2 million (Down by -8.6%)
- Cocoa: $218 million (Down by -24.9%)
Switzerland has highly positive net exports in the international trade of pharmaceuticals. In turn, these cashflows indicate Switzerland’s strong competitive advantages under the drugs and medicines product category.
Below are exports from Switzerland that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Switzerland’s goods trail Swiss importer spending on foreign products.
- Gems, precious metals: -US$18.2 billion (Up by 184.9% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$12.5 billion (Down by -6.1%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefabricated buildings: -$3.9 billion (Up by 5.4%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: -$3.9 billion (Down by -42.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$2.8 billion (Up by 36.1%)
- Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): -$2.5 billion (Up by 0.1%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: -$2.3 billion (Up by 3.7%)
- Miscellaneous textiles, worn clothing: -$1.5 billion (Up by 155.6%)
- Wood: -$1.5 billion (Up by 6%)
- Fruits, nuts: -$1.4 billion (Up by 15.3%)
Switzerland has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits for gems and precious metals–notably gold and to a lesser extent platinum and diamonds.
These cashflow deficiencies clearly indicate Switzerland’s competitive disadvantages in the international markets for gems and precious metals.
Swiss Export Companies
Based on Forbes Global 2000 rankings, here are examples of large international trade players from Switzerland. Shown within parentheses are the types of products each company provides.
- Nestlé (food processing)
- Novartis (pharmaceuticals)
- Roche Holding (pharmaceuticals)
- ABB Group (automation technology)
- Holcim (construction materials)
- Glencore International (diversified metals)
- Syngenta (pesticides, specialized chemicals)
- TE Connectivity (electronics)
- Transocean (offshore drilling equipment)
- Swatch Group (clothing, watches)
- Weatherford International (oil field equipment)
- Schindler Group (escalators, elevators)
Global trade intelligence firm Zepol also documents the following companies as examples of Swiss exporters.
- Baselux Sa Lugano Branch (heterocyclic compounds, printed documents)
- Novametal Sa Switzerland (stainless steel wire, plastic bobbins, aluminum wire)
- Olivado Tanlay (vegetable oil, honey, coconut oil)
- Polarome Switzerland (ketones, acetic acid esthers, acyclic polyhyric acids)
- Starbucks Coffee Trading (coffee, tea, paper bags)
Searchable List of Switzerland’s Most Valuable Export Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Switzerland during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Swiss Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|2||Medication mixes in dosage||$47,107,919,000||+0.2%|
|3||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$34,459,445,000||+14.6%|
|4||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$10,315,329,000||+22%|
|5||Wrist/pocket watches (no precious metal case)||$13,603,908,000||-15.3%|
|8||Wrist/pocket watches (precious metal case)||$7,045,746,000||-17.7%|
|9||Electro-medical equipment (e.g. xrays)||$4,033,307,000||-12.7%|
|10||Hormones, miscellaneous steroids||$2,162,492,000||+46.6%|
|14||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$1,620,795,000||+16.8%|
|15||Non-alcoholic drinks (not water/juice/milk)||$1,870,459,000||-1.2%|
|16||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$1,633,685,000||+12%|
|17||Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing||$1,780,829,000||-3.2%|
|18||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$1,405,062,000||+16.5%|
|19||Electric motors, generators||$1,605,189,000||-1.6%|
|26||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$1,420,617,000||-11.8%|
|30||Air or vacuum pumps||$1,117,946,000||+4.2%|
|31||Liquid/gas checking instruments||$1,058,358,000||+9.4%|
|32||Other measuring/testing machines||$1,174,292,000||-7.5%|
|33||Electrical converters/power units||$957,423,000||+8.3%|
|36||Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines||$798,816,000||+10.6%|
|37||Other machine parts, accessories||$1,054,014,000||-20.2%|
|38||Miscellaneous plastic items||$832,214,000||-1.1%|
|39||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$867,409,000||-7.6%|
|40||Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches||$756,745,000||+3.3%|
|41||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$924,750,000||-17.4%|
|42||Medication mixes not in dosage||$688,876,000||+10.7%|
|43||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$800,449,000||-5.7%|
|44||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$835,815,000||-9.9%|
|45||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$742,765,000||-1.3%|
|46||Precious metal waste, scrap||$553,314,000||+32.3%|
|49||High-voltage switches, fuses||$754,676,000||-7.3%|
|50||Interchangeable hand/machine tools||$733,032,000||-7.9%|
|51||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$813,671,000||-17.2%|
|52||Other food preparations||$677,051,000||-0.6%|
|55||Hand-drawn paintings, drawings||$1,194,966,000||-45.5%|
|56||Liquid pumps and elevators||$679,913,000||-5.1%|
|57||Sutures, special pharmaceuticals||$723,856,000||-11.2%|
|58||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$574,625,000||+11.8%|
|60||Hand saws, blades||$84,386,000||+614.9%|
|61||Computers, optical readers||$623,214,000||-6.1%|
|62||Material removal machine-tools||$840,563,000||-30.5%|
|63||Rubber/plastic article making machines||$548,196,000||+5%|
|64||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$516,882,000||+5.6%|
|65||Cases, handbags, wallets||$639,558,000||-15.1%|
|66||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$512,737,000||+3.1%|
|67||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$526,101,000||-0.1%|
|68||Precious/semi-precious stones (unstrung)||$706,378,000||-26.7%|
|71||Metal soldering/hot-spray equipment||$582,847,000||-13.8%|
|75||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$487,065,000||-0.3%|
|77||Phone system devices including smartphones||$559,230,000||-14.8%|
|78||Precious metal compounds||$345,802,000||+35.6%|
|79||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$459,358,000||+1.5%|
|80||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$513,233,000||-9.3%|
|81||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$475,172,000||-2.8%|
|82||Solar power diodes/semi-conductors||$444,380,000||+0.2%|
|85||Chemical industry products/residuals||$460,982,000||-8.6%|
|86||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$449,618,000||-7%|
|90||Armored vehicles, tanks||$314,977,000||+28.8%|
|92||Parts of railway/tramway vehicles||$366,567,000||+9.1%|
|93||Self-propelled railway/tramway coaches||$447,646,000||-11.9%|
|97||Processed petroleum oils||$699,204,000||-47.6%|
|98||Paper pulp, paper or paperboard machinery||$402,237,000||-9.7%|
|99||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$364,383,000||-1.7%|
|100||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$266,777,000||+28.8%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$281.3 billion or 88.2% by value for all products exported from Switzerland during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Switzerland’s total exported goods represent 54% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($590.9 billion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 54% for exports to overall GDP in PPP for 2020 compares to 55.5% for 2019, seeming to indicate a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Switzerland’s total economic performance.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Switzerland’s unemployment rate was 3.7% at January 2021, up from an average 2.821% in 2020 according to the International Monetary Fund.
Switzerland’s capital city is Bern.
See also Switzerland’s Top Trading Partners, Switzerland’s Top 10 Imports and Switzerland’s Top 10 Major Export Companies
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, Gross domestic product. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Wikipedia, List of Companies of Switzerland. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on February 15, 2021
Zepol’s company summary highlights by country. Accessed on February 15, 2021