Chemical and pharmaceutical products bring new highs in 2019 to Swiss foreign trade

Against the background of the global uncertainty surrounding trade disputes and the world economy, Swiss foreign trade still developed positively in 2019, albeit at a slower pace. Exports rose by 3.9 % to CHF 242.3 billion and imports by 1.6 % to CHF 205.0 billion. This means that trade in goods reached record levels in both directions. The trade balance ended at a new high of CHF 37.3 billion.

Overall trend

In 2019, foreign trade developed positively in both directions for the fourth year in succession, albeit at a slower pace. Exports rose by CHF 9.1 billion (+3.9 %; real: -1.2 %) to a record  CHF 242.3 billion. Imports also reached a record level: In the space of a year they grew by CHF 3.1 billion (+1.6 %; real: -1.0 %) to CHF 205.0 billion. Trade in both directions declined in the final quarter. The trade balance posted an all-time record with a surplus of CHF 37.3 billion. This result is due to the positive balance of CHF 61.9 billion from the chemical and pharmaceutical products.

Exports to the United States have doubled since 2011

The increase in exports was generated exclusively by the chemical and pharmaceutical products, which grew by CHF 10.2 billion (+9.8 %) in a single year. In particular, the year-on- year increases in exports of immunological products (up CHF 5.8 billion; +20.6 %) and medicines (up CHF 3.1 billion) made the largest contributions. Exports of watches were also up, rising by CHF 500 million to CHF 21.7 billion, and precision instruments (up CHF 203 million), albeit at a slower pace. By contrast, shipments of machinery and electronics as well as metals were down by 4.4 % and 5.7 % respectively, following growth over the past three years.

Demand for Swiss products increased in all three major markets in 2019. The strongest expansion in sales was in North America (+8.9 %), with the main growth coming from the USA (up CHF 3.4 billion). Exports to Europe and Asia grew at virtually the same pace, by 3.1 % and 3.5 % respectively. The increase in Europe was due, among other things, to additional shipments to Belgium (+24.0 %), the Netherlands (+14.7 %), Spain (+14.3 %) and Russia (+23.7 %), which mainly involved deliveries of pharmaceutical products. In contrast, sales to France fell by 6 % and those to the United Kingdom by 1.8 %, slowing the double-digit decline of the previous year. Exports to Asia prospered thanks to increased shipments to China (+9.7 %) and Singapore (+13.3 %).

Jewellery imports exceed the CHF 16 billion mark

On the import side, the increase also came from chemical and pharmaceutical products (up CHF 2.5 billion), which continued on their growth path that began in 2015. The positive impetus came from the purchase of medicines (up CHF 1.9 billion) and raw and primary materials (+1.6 billion), while imports of active principles declined by CHF 1.1 billion. It is also worth noting that jewellery imports (other goods) maintained their high level, expanding by 3.3  % following double-digit growth in both of the previous two years. However, purchases of machinery and electronics, the second most important branch, remained at the previous year’s level.

The biggest increase came from Asia (+8.8 %), primarily from the United Arab Emirates (up CHF 1.3 billion, mainly jewellery). Imports from China reached a new high with an increase of 4.5 % to CHF 14.9 billion. Imports from North America continued on their growth path with an increase of 1.2 %; a decline in imports from Canada was offset by the United States (up 9.3 %). Imports from Europe remained at the previous year’s level (euro zone: -1.4 %). The increase in imports of CHF 1.6 billion from the United Kingdom and CHF 844 million from Spain offset the decline of CHF 1.1 billion each from both France and Ireland.