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.
▼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
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: www.swiss-impex.admin.ch .
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