Swiss industry is profiting strongly from the growth momentum abroad. In the last twenty years, foreign trade figures have skyrocketed. One important success factor for this is quality. “Made in Switzerland” has established itself and stands for exclusivity, tradition and the latest technology: the right strategy for low-raw-material, high-wage Switzerland to survive in international competition. The Eurozone is by far the most important export market for Switzerland, followed by the USA. These highly-developed industrialized countries are also referred to as “mature markets”. Around three out of four Swiss export francs are made trading in mature markets.
Germany and the USA as draft horses
Germany is Switzerland's most important trading partner in every respect. The automotive industry plays a very important role, alongside its Swiss suppliers from the machinery, electrical and metal industry (MEM) as well as the pharmaceutical industry. Both sectors achieved a trading volume of over 12 billion Swiss francs in 2018 in Germany. As all niches in the German market are already occupied, Swiss exporters must clearly position themselves and highlight their unique selling point. Price is also decisive for success.
The USA is also a growth driver and source of inspiration for Swiss foreign trade. Export turnover amounts to 38 billion francs, making the USA the second most important sales market. For Swiss manufacturers of medicines and medical devices in particular, the USA is one of the core sales markets with growth rates well above 10% per year. Manufacturers of precision instruments are also among the winners. One decisive factor is digitization, especially in the areas of fintech and life sciences.
France and Canada have great potential for Swiss exporters
France has the third largest export volume with over 14 billion Swiss francs. The largest suppliers are producers of pharmaceuticals as well as the local chemical industry and automotive suppliers. Exporting to France requires its own concepts. The market is saturated and cooperation with a sales partner is recommended. The country has numerous regulations and EU regulations are not necessarily valid.
Although Canada plays a limited role in Swiss foreign trade today, likely to change rapidly if the current growth trend continues. Pharma exports dominate in foreign trade with Canada, fostered by its comprehensive and progressive health care system as well as by the relatively high prosperity. Exporters are well advised to take into account the sheer size of the country and to focus any market entry on one region to begin with.
Japan - the important partner in the East
The Japanese economy is characterized by a relatively strong currency, low inflation and an aging population. The annual growth of Swiss exports to the East Asian country is slightly below average, but the trend is rising. The aging population is likely to be the main reason why half of exports come from the pharmaceutical and medtech industries. Exports from the MEM and watchmaking industries are also important. Japan is an extremely modern market and Swiss solutions in the areas of fintech, IT, life science and medical technology are accordingly in high demand.
Download the study
Detailed information on the development of Swiss foreign trade can be found in the new study on mature markets. The study analyzes exports by sector, highlights growth trends and uses specific advice to show Swiss exporters how they can successfully tap into the various target markets. The study is available for download at the end of this article.