Record year for Swiss Foreign Trade in 2018 in details

Despite the global economic uncertainties, Swiss foreign trade set high standards in both directions of trade in 2018: exports grew at their strongest rate (+5.7%) since 2010 in nominal terms and thus reached a new high. The same applies to imports, which even grew by 8.6% year on year and thereby exceeded the 200 billion franc mark. The trade balance showed a surplus of CHF 31.3 billion


  • Exports: Machinery and electronics, and watches confirmed their recovery
  • Imports: Jewellery accounted for 30 % of total growth
  • Exports to the United States have risen by over 60 % since 2013

Overall trend

Exports rose by 5.7 % in 2018 (+1.2 % in real terms) to a reach a new record level of CHF 233.1 billion. Imports also reached an all-time high, rising by CHF 16 billion to CHF 201.8 billion (+8.6 %; real terms: +6.0 %) during the year. However, the quarterly development varied depending on the direction of trade. Export growth in the first two quarters was followed by a visible decline in the third quarter. The fourth quarter then saw another sharp increase (+6.3 %). Imports grew overall in the first two quarters, and then fell to a high level in the second half of the year. The trade surplus amounted to CHF 31320 million, which was CHF 3489 million less than the previous year.

Before Brexit: Exports to the United Kingdom fell by 23% …

All major branches contributed to the rise in exports. The biggest contribution to growth came from the group with the highest turnover, chemical and pharmaceutical products (+5.7 billion; +5.8 %). In particular, exports of medicines grew by 8.9 % during the year. Shipments of machinery and electronics grew by 4.6 % (+1.5 billion) and those of watches by 6.3 % (+1.3 billion). Exports of precision instruments rose at practically the same rate, and thereby posted their third consecutive annual increase of 7.4 %. In the “Others” group, metals are worth mentioning, with their export growth of 5.5 % (+752 million).

Switzerland sold more goods in value terms in all sales territories in 2018. Among the three main markets, North America stood out with a surge of 11.6 %, whereby a new record was set with the generation of additional turnover of CHF 4.2 billion in the United States alone. Europe and Asia posted virtually the same growth rates (+4.2 % and +4.4 %, respectively). The additional demand from Europe was very broadly based in terms of countries. The surge in the Netherlands and Spain was striking (+51.5 and 16.8 %, respectively), driven by the significant increase in shipments of pharmaceutical products. The increase in Germany (+3.6 %) also played a role, with additional turnover of CHF 1.5 billion. In contrast, exports to the United Kingdom fell by 23 %, the sharpest decline in 30 years. Aside from the Middle East, demand from the other major Asian countries grew consistently: Hong Kong (+11.2 %) and China (+6.8 %) are particularly noteworthy here. In Latin America, Brazil in particular saw an increase of 17.8 %.

… while imports from the United Kingdom rose by 27%

The increase was broadly based on the import side too; at the same time, all key branches pursued their growth path seen since 2015. The most striking increase in 2018 was recorded by jewellery (other goods), whose imports rose by two fifths and alone amounted to CHF 4.6 billion (mainly gold jewellery for smelting). Imports of metals were up by a tenth. The largest group in terms of trade, chemical and pharmaceutical products, posted an increase of 7.3 % (+3.4 billion), while imports of machinery and electronics rose by 5.5 % (+1.7 billion).

The range of growth rates by continent was broad. Imports from Asia increased by a fifth, due primarily to massive purchases from the United Arab Emirates (+3.5 billion; mainly gold jewellery for smelting). In addition, imports from China rose by a tenth and those from Singapore by 30 % (+1.2 billion and +588 million, respectively). In value terms, Switzerland imported 6.9 % more goods from Europe (+9.4 billion), namely from the United Kingdom (+27.3 %), France (+10.1 %) and Germany (+4.4 %). Meanwhile, imports from North America rose by 1.1 %, while imports from the United States fell by 1.0 %.