After pandemic slump, Swiss exports boomed in 2021

Exporting, or perhaps importing, on the Rhine in Basel. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Swiss exports climbed to record levels in 2021, with chemicals and pharma driving much of the growth. Watches, especially luxury ones, also had a good year.

This content was published on January 27, 2022 - 13:01

Exports came to a total value of CHF259.5 billion ($284.5 billion) in 2021, marking a 15.2% increase on the pandemic year 2020 and a 7% increase on 2019, according to the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security, which said the figure marked an all-time high.

With imports also climbing, but less markedly, to CHF200.8 billion, 2021 ended with a trade surplus of CHF58.7 billion, up from CHF43 billion in 2020, the customs office wrote on ThursdayExternal link.

Chemical and pharmaceutical products accounted for just over half of the total volume of exports; the value of this industry rose by 12.4%, with exports of immunological products notably rising almost a quarter.

Good time for watches

The watchmaking industry also scored a recovery after the 2020 slump: last year it expanded by a third to a total value CHF22.3 billion, with the major markets remaining the United States, China, and Hong Kong.

With total numbers of watch exports falling however, the value growth was driven by more expensive brands. Luxury watches (those costing over CHF3,000) saw the biggest increase, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) wrote on ThursdayExternal link. The group also said the 2021 figures amounted to the best year ever when it comes to the value of watch exports, up 0.2% compared with the previous high mark of 2014.

The customs office added that while jewellery exports grew at a similar pace to watches, they remained considerably (CHF 1.2 billion) below pre-pandemic levels.

As for imports, one remarkable progression last year was the big jump in energy imports, which rose by almost 70% to just under CHF10 billion – a rise explained “exclusively” by higher prices rather than volumes, the customs office said.

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