Switzerland has a typical West European diverse economy with a bias towards light and craft based industries: Swiss precision manufacturing such as watch making is famous throughout the world. The country is very much industrialised and heavily reliant on exports of finished goods (in total, exports are equivalent to just under half of Swiss GDP).
Lack of raw materials of its own, almost all of these must be imported. In manufacturing, the machinery and equipment industry specialises in accuracy and advanced technology products: machine tools, printing and photographic equipment, electronic control and medical equipment. There is also a sizeable chemical industry, employing 10 per cent of the workforce, which continues to grow progressively. Swiss firms have proved particularly skilled at exploiting niche markets across a wide range of industries and products. Although half of the country’s food is imported, the agricultural sector is a strong and most important employer. The processed foods industry has high international profile, particularly in such products as chocolate, cheese and baby foods.
The service sector is dominated by banking, where the particular reputation of the Swiss banking community for discretion has attracted hefty deposits. The Government has come under some pressure to allow disclosure in the course of criminal and other investigations: recognising the international climate, the Swiss authorities have responded more flexibly of late. Switzerland remains one of Europe’s main financial centres.
Among other service industries, tourism is of growing significance: Switzerland receives around 10 million visitors annually and the industry contributes around $12 billion to the nation's economy. The economy has been stagnant during the last 2 years, largely a reflection of conditions throughout continental Europe; the economy contracted slightly during 2003, but is expected to resume slow growth in 2004/5.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU, although nearly 2/3 of its exports are sold to EU countries. The government is in the process of negotiating a new set of bilateral agreements with the EU, but the prospect of it joining the Union is as far-off as ever. A referendum rejected even membership of the European Economic Area – a body created to reduce the economic barriers between the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), to which Switzerland does belong. In May 1992, Switzerland gained admission to the World Bank and the IMF.
Switzerland’s main trade partners are France, Italy, the USA and Germany.
People on business are expected to wear suits. Although English is commonly spoken, it is always appreciated if a visitor attempts to say a few words in the language of the host. When visiting a firm, a visiting card is unavoidable.
Office hours: Monday-Friday 0800-1200 and 1400-1700.
The following organisations can offer advice:
OSEC Business Network Switzerland, Stampfenbachstrasse 85, 8035 Zürich
(tel: (1) 365 5770; fax: (1) 365 5221; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org); or
Economiesuisse Swiss Business Federation, Hegibachstrasse 47, PO Box 1072, 8032 Zürich
(tel: (1) 421 3535; fax: (1) 421 3434; e-mail: email@example.com).
Information can is also available from the regional chambers of commerce in each canton.
The stability, neutrality and convenient central location of Switzerland make the country a preferred meeting place for conventions and international organisations. It has a widespread and highly developed network of conference destinations with all the major cities and many of the smaller alpine and lake resorts offering hotels and convention centres which are fully equipped with a complete range of services including interpretation and audio-visual services.
Each of Switzerland’s main cities has its own Convention Bureau, whilst the Association of Swiss Convention Centres, Swiss Congress, oversees meetings activity all over the country.
The organisation is made up of the 19 leading congress locations in Switzerland and it can help organize a meeting in any region of the country. Contact Switzerland Tourism (see Contact Addresses section); or Switzerland Convention and Incentive Bureau (SCIB), c/o Switzerland Tourism, Tödistrasse 7, 8027 Zürich (tel: (1) 288 1271; fax: (1) 201 5301; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).