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90 Years as an International Network for Swiss Business

Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. The history of the association began in 1927, when offices for business development were opened in Zürich and Lausanne. Even though the following years were marked by war and financial crisis, targeted measures meant that Switzerland was able to develop into a major business location. A review.

Its international network is one of S-GE’s strengths
Former commercial agency in Batavia (Dutch East Indies, 1930s)

The association was founded on July 8th, 1927 as the Schweizerische Zentrale für Handelsförderung (Swiss Office of Commercial Expansion). It was the Swiss federal government's response to the demands of Swiss business for a united and active solution to Swiss export and commercial expansion. There had previously been private and public initiatives to coordinate trade fairs and exhibitions and to support the economy as it internationalizes. Involved were the Schweizerische Handels- und Industrieverein (the Swiss Business Federation, today Economiesuisse), the Swiss Union of Crafts and Small and Medium-sized enterprises, the Swiss Farmers Union and the Vaud Chamber of Industry and Commerce. In order to avoid a redundant structure, the Schweizerische Zentrale für Handelsförderung was founded in 1927.

The world economic crisis of the 1930s created big challenges for the Swiss economy, so to protect jobs and create new ones during that time, the Schweizerische Zentrale für Handelsförderung banked on exports. This led to the creation of an international network of commercial agencies. The offices – including ones in China, Canada and India – delivered valuable information about foreign markets and helped Swiss companies find outlets for their products abroad. These commercial agencies were the predecessors of the 22 Swiss Business Hubs – these Hubs are spread all over the world and assist with evaluating markets and providing business contacts.

Business development in the Second World War

The Schweizerische Zentrale für Handelsförderung played an important role during the Second World War too, providing Swiss companies with information, for instance, about open transport routes and delivery and payment options abroad. At the same time, it broadcast a Swiss business chronicle to the world via radio and produced films about Switzerland that were shown to an international audience.
In 1987, the Schweizerische Zentrale für Handelsförderung changed its official designation to the French name OSEC (Office Suisse d’Expansion Commerciale). This was done to fulfill the association’s goal of repositioning itself, developing greater proximity to customers, offering problem-solving packages for SMEs and making a clear commitment to export development.

Rolf Jeker, President of the Board of Directors from 2004 to 2011, is convinced that the organization has shaped Switzerland’s economic structure and that its support is still needed:

Switzerland has thousands of small businesses. This is a strength, and in this respect, Switzerland is virtually unique.

“Many companies are globally active or will have to become more globally active in the future. They require professional support in internationalizing, and Switzerland Global Enterprise can make a significant contribution here,” says Rolf Jeker.

Success thanks to a good network

Since 2013, the organization has been known as Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE). It helps customers find ways to enter new markets, and continues to promote export and investment on behalf of the Confederation (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO). At the same time, S-GE helps customers realize new potential for their international business and strengthen Switzerland as an industrial location. As before, S-GE brings together customers, associations, chambers of commerce, public authorities and experts,

and this network and know-how can be of vital importance to Swiss SMEs. Beat Fenner, Board Member from 1998 to 2011 remembers: “I worked in Singapore in the seventies. I experienced how Swiss SMEs indiscriminately exported their products during an economic slump in Switzerland.” Some of them were eaten up by swindlers even though they could have received export assistance, Beat Fenner recalls. On the other hand, he says, he also experienced Swiss companies exporting successfully. For instance, he once came across a Swiss plastering machine in the middle of the night in Kazakhstan.

The network continues to be a decisive factor in spite of globalization and digitization. Digital tools do not necessarily make it easier for Swiss SMEs to find the needle in the haystack when looking for distribution partners, says Alberto Silini, Head of Consultancy at S-GE.

Switzerland Global Enterprise can point them in the right direction.

To tap into new markets successfully, the work that needs to be done is immense and time-consuming. According to Alberto Silini, this can include clarifying local import regulations, calculating local customs tariffs for the SME’s own products, gathering specific market information or identifying possible customers or sales partners. “Why should SMEs do this themselves when S-GE has been helping thousands of Swiss SMEs efficiently and successfully for decades?”

If you too wish to take advantage of S-GE’s network and know-how, or if you have questions regarding free-trade agreements, sales tax or customs, please do not hesitate to contact our experts.
If you are interested in receiving advice on a specific market, you are welcome to take part in a country consultation.
If you would like to export your products abroad, we offer you this checklist.

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