Swiss Foreign Trade in 2020: pandemic causes historic decline

Swiss foreign trade was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic: there was a historic decline in both exports (-7.1% to 225.1 bn) and imports (-11.2% to 182.1 bn). In the second quarter, imports and exports plummeted at an unprecedented pace. This development set foreign trade back by three years. Meanwhile, the trade balance posted a new record surplus of CHF 43.0 billion.

In brief:

Foreign trade decreased by a total of CHF 40 billion in 2020

▼Jewellery and watches accounted for 50 % of the decline in exports

▼Jewellery imports were down by CHF 9.0 billion

▲Exports of chemical and pharmaceutical products bucked the general downward trend

▲Foreign trade with China hit record levels in both directions

Overall trend

After four consecutive years of growth, Swiss foreign trade suffered a severe setback in 2020: exportsfell by 7.1 % (real terms: -11.0 %), or CHF 17.3billion, relative to the previous year and imports were down by 11.2 % (real terms: -13.6 %), or CHF 23.1billion. This was the second-biggest yearly decline for both directions after 2009. At the same time, foreign trade slipped back towards a level last seen in 2017. In terms of both imports and exports, the pandemic caused a record-breaking plunge in trading activity in the second quarter of 2020. At least there was a partial recovery in the third and fourth quarters. Since imports fell even more sharply than exports overall, the trade surplus rose to a new high of CHF 43.0 billion.

Exports to France tumbled to the level of 2000

With the exception of chemical and pharmaceutical products(+1.6 %, or +1.8 billion), all sectors were down in 2020. The biggest declines were seen in jewelleryand watches, where sales fell by a third (-4.0 billion) and a fifth (-4.7 billion), respectively. Furthermore, exports of machines and electronics, as well as metals, decreased by 11 % each. Already in 2019, the result was negative  overall  for  both  branches.  In  the  case  of  chemical  and  pharmaceutical  products, immunological products (+2.8 billion) and active pharmaceutical ingredients (+1.1 billion) proved to be growth vectors. The Swiss export industry sold fewer goods in all three major economic areas. In relative terms, shipments to Asia fell the most, with a decline of 8.8 % (-4.6billion). While exports to Hong Kong and  Japan  decreased  by  a  total  of  CHF  3.0 billion,  those  to  China  grew  by  CHF  1.3 billion (mainly chemical and pharmaceutical products, and watches) and reached a new high of CHF 14.7 billion.

Deliveries  to Europe decreased  by  6.2 %,  or  CHF  8.1 billion.  Germany,  France,  the  United Kingdom and Italy stood out here. The decline of CHF 2.5billion for France was exceptionally sharp and pushed the country back to its lowest level since 2000. Exports to North America shrank by 6.1 %.  Sales  to  the  United  States  tumbled  by  CHF  2.5  billion  to  CHF  39.5  billion during the year.

With a 4 % share, jewellery imports were responsible for 40 % of the decline

The  decline in imports  affected  the  entire  range  of  goods –with  the  exception  of textiles (especially protective clothing and masks) and food, beverages and tobacco (under other product  groups).  The  drop  was  attributable mainly  to  the  massive  plunge in imports  of jewellery (including  gold  jewellery  for  smelting).  In  this  area,  demand  halved  relative  to  the previous year (-9.0 billion). Imports of energy sources likewise plummeted by CHF 3.8 billion. In addition, imports of vehicles, machines and electronics, and metals, contracted by around CHF 2 billion each. Imports of chemical and pharmaceutical products fell by a total of CHF 1.5 billion,  as a result of the substantial decrease in active pharmaceutical ingredients and raw and primary materials. In contrast, imports of medicines rose by CHF 3.4 billion.

Switzerland purchased fewer goods from all three major economic areas. Imports from North America fell  the  most  sharply  (-16.0 %;  United  States: -2.4 billion).  However,  there  was  also  a double-digit decline of 11.2 % concerning Europe. In this regard, imports from Germany, the United  Kingdom,  Ireland,  France  and  Italy  all  decreased  significantly.  Imports  fromAsia contracted by a total of 9.9 %. This was caused primarily by the massive drop in imports from the United Arab Emirates (-5.9 billion/gold jewellery for smelting). In contrast, imports from China (textiles and clothing), Singapore (+60 %; chemical and pharmaceutical products) and Japan grew by CHF 2.8 billion overall, with China and Singapore reaching new highs in the process.

Notes: The text, tables and charts are also based on the provisionalbusiness cycle data (Total 1), i.e. without trading in gold, other precious metals, precious stones andgems, works of art and antiques.Further foreign trade statistics can be found online in our database: .

The  press  release  on  Swiss  foreign  trade  for  the January  2020 reporting  period  is  intended  for  publication  on Thursday, 18 February 2021 (Release calendar).

Nominal: At current prices, i.e. not price-adjustedReal:Price-adjusted (based on averages)Adjusted for working days:Takes account of the influence of individual working days (e.g. number of Thursdays per month) and other calendar-related effects

Seasonally adjusted:Adjusted for the number of working days and excluding seasonal fluctuationsProduct groups:Classification according to the “product type” nomenclature