Opportunity knocks for Swiss business in Asia

Swiss companies need to assert their presence in the Asian market Keystone Archive

A large part of Switzerland's exports are destined for countries in Asia, which continues to offer a lucrative and expanding market. However, much of that trade is carried out by larger Swiss companies while small and medium-sized firms are left behind.

This content was published on March 30, 2001 - 12:13

One organisation which has been trying to counteract this imbalance is the Swiss Export Association, which was started as an industry-funded concern in 1973.

Christoph Häner, a member of Swiss Export's executive board, told swissinfo: "We're trying to assist small and medium-sized Swiss companies who are planning to export but lack the expert knowledge within their organisation,"

"Unlike big companies that have staff across the world within their organisation small companies need specialist help."

As part of its plan to aid smaller Swiss firms enter lucrative markets Swiss Export helped organise a conference on investing in Asia held in Zurich on Thursday.

"The point of this event is to give a certain knowledge to Swiss companies already doing business in Asia or those companies that intend to go there because of potential in the market," explained Häner.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference, Peter Sorg - a leading light in Ciba Speciality Chemical's Asian operation for the past two decades - told swissinfo that the importance of Asian markets is still undervalued by Swiss companies.

Living across the Asian continent since 1982 Sorg has had a rare in-depth look into the way business is done in Asia.

"In multinational companies, Asian business takes around a 25 per cent share of the group's global business," he said. "In small and medium-sized enterprises the Asian share of business is minute."

Swiss companies' interest in doing business in Asia may seem surprising, considering the current depressed state of the region's former powerhouse, Japan.

"Like in the stock market there are two way to approach this, either go in when the market is rising or go in when there is a certain degree of uncertainty but you have relatively cheap entry," explained Sorg. "The costs of not participating in the long-run will be higher than the costs of a market entry now."

Among the companies which attended the conference, most were interested how they should prepare for successful entry into the Asian market.

Sorg told swissinfo the main priority for all companies thinking about entering the Asian market is to carry out thorough market research, develop good market intelligence and establish market contacts.

"I recommend that firms should pay utmost attention in this area before engaging in serious business talks," said Sorg. "Secondly firms should build connections, establish a network, develop reliable relationships and make friends - this all helps to create an atmosphere of trust with your Asian business partners."

"There are various other organisations in Switzerland offering help to exporters but through our global network of correspondents we're in a unique position to help small and medium sized businesses," explained Swiss Export's Christoph Häner.

The Zurich conference reinforced Swiss Export's position as a primary source of advice for smaller Swiss firms while highlighting the continued importance of Asia as a destination for Swiss business.

by Tom O'Brien

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