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Foreign trade Most Swiss gold is exported to Asia

Switzerland exports most of its gold bullion and coins to Asian countries

(Keystone)

Switzerland exports its gold mainly to Asian countries, according to data on precious metal trade released Thursday by the Federal Customs Administration. Exports were broken down by country for the first time in 30 years.

The Asian market, including countries such as Hong Kong, India and Singapore, was the primary purchaser of Swiss gold and silver bullion and coins in January 2014, according to the customs administration.

The top five purchasers were all countries in Asia, and made up more than 80% of the total worth of CHF6.9 billion ($7.8 billion).

Gold trade is of great importance to Switzerland – it accounts for about a third of total foreign trade. Up until now, little was known about Switzerland’s trading partners. In response to a request by parliamentarian Cédric Wermuth of the Social Democratic Party, the customs administration released details on its gold trade for the first time since 1981.

With CHF3.1 billion, Hong Kong, an important gold trade centre and door to Asia, accounted for 44% of exports in January alone. The value corresponds to a weight of about 85 tons of gold. As a destination for Switzerland’s gold, the special administrative region on China’s south coast is followed by India, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and China.

“In China and India, there are many producers of gold jewellery,” explained Jean-Claude Wagnon, head of the Foreign Trade Statistics and Economic Issues division. “Hong Kong is one of the intermediaries.”

Sensitive data

As of 2014, the customs administration is publishing data on the trade of gold, silver and coins broken down by country. By January 2015 at the latest, the data will be available from the online database Swiss Impex.

According to Wagnon, Switzerland did not publish any details on its gold trade for economic and political reasons. First, its rival gold market in London also failed to do so, and the country also did not want to draw attention to its trade with sensitive countries, which according to the Swiss Society for Endangered People also include South Africa.

In January 2014, Switzerland obtained most of its precious metals and coins from Europe. It imported CHF4.3 billion – or 60% of the total of CHF7.2 billion – from Britain alone. The value corresponds to 119 tons of gold.

The United States, Italy, Germany and Thailand are other major trading partners for imports. To be sure, like Switzerland, its trading partners are rarely the actual producers of the gold – they mainly act as intermediaries.

In 2013, Switzerland imported gold bullion worth CHF109 billion and exported bullion worth CHF118 billion.

There has been a steady increase in the gold trade since around 2005, with the value of gold imports increasing eight-fold until 2013,  and exports increasing by a factor of more than six. At the same time the amount of imported and exported gold bullion increased three-fold.

The price of gold increased from CHF16,200 to CHF41,400 per kilogram over the same period, with a peak of CHF50,100 per kilo in 2012, according to the Swiss National Bank.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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