Strong franc blamed for drop in export of Swiss war materiel

Exports of war materiel from Switzerland have reached their lowest level in nearly ten years, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

This content was published on February 23, 2016 - 18:38
Urs Geiser and Duc-Quang Nguyen,

Presenting detailed figures from 2015, senior officials said exports dropped to CHF446.6 million ($449 million), down 21% from the previous year.

Germany was by far the biggest buyer, purchasing Swiss war materiel worth CHF130.3 million, ahead of India with CHF45.5 million, Indonesia (CHF44.2 million), the United States (CHF 26.3 million) and Italy (CHF 24.4 million). Air defence systems, ammunition and armoured vehicles made up the bulk of exports.

In the same period, the volume of new permissions to export granted by the authorities increased by just over CHF200 million.

However, the total number of export permissions, often carried over from previous years, decreased by more than 160 to 2,191, representing a volume of just over CHF1 billion – nearly half as much as in 2014.

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“The drop is partly due to the strong Swiss franc, which has affected the whole machinery and engineering industry,” said Simon Plüss, head of arms control and arms control policy at the state secretariat.

Plüss said the ban on arms exports to the Middle East and the Gulf states, imposed by the government last March amid the armed conflict in Yemen, has had no noticeable impact.

The Swiss business community has been lobbying for an easing of the embargo, arguing many jobs were at risk in the armament industry.

Plüss acknowledges “problems” for the industrial sector, but he added that some companies are doing well.

On the list of 71 countries that bought war materiel from Switzerland were several that are considered problematic.

According to Swiss law, exports of war materiel are banned to countries involved in armed conflicts, or in which human rights are systematically violated.

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Worldwide export data

The latest figures were released a day after the publication of a report on the global arms trade by the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI). That report, based in part on different data, found that the volume of arms traded worldwide increased by 14% from 2004 to 2015.

According to the SIPRI report, the US was the biggest arms exporter worldwide, with a market share of 33%, followed by Russia (25%), China (5.9%), France (5.6%) and Germany (4.7%).

Switzerland’s war materiel exports have dropped 5% since 2011, but their total value increased considerably in 2014 and 2015, according to the institute. The country ranks among the world’s top 14 exporters, and accounts for about 1% of global arms exports.

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