Trade winds: trade between Switzerland and Europe is flourishing, and prospects for more free trade agreements appear better than ever.

AuteurAnderson, Robert

The European Union is undoubtedly Switzerland's most important trading partner, with most EU countries currently enjoying very close political, cultural and economic relations with the tiny Alpine nation.

The political systems in the EU and Switzerland were founded on common fundamental values such as democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. For centuries, the interrelationships have been shaped by common languages, the environment, new technologies, warfare, religious beliefs, and of course, free trade.

Switzerland is among the countries with the highest proportion of foreign trade as a percentage of gross national product (GNP), so its economic locomotive is, to a large extent, fueled by the goods and services it exports and imports.

Trade partnerships are always being cultivated. For example, Switzerland and the Russian Federation recently signed a bilateral trade pact with tremendous potential for Swiss companies in a market representing 140 million consumers.

But the European Union is by far Switzerland's most significant trading partner. With more than 450 million people, it takes roughly 60 per cent of our exports and provides 82 per cent of imports.

Major partners

According to statistics compiled by the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, Swiss exports to Germany alone amounted to SFr 41.2 billion in 2005, and Switzerland imported SFr 27.7 billion worth of German products.

France ranks number two in terms of Swiss foreign trade, with exports and imports totaling SFr 13.7 billion and SFr 11.5 billion, respectively. Italy, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland and Belgium round out the list of Switzerland's key trading partners in the EU (see chart).

More than 800,000 EU citizens live in Switzerland, while roughly 560,000 Swiss live in the European Union. Every day, about 180,000 EU nationals

cross the border to work here.

Swiss foreign direct investment in the EU amounts to around SFr 180 billion annually, with SFr 110 billion flowing into Switzerland from the EU. Furthermore, Swiss companies employ 760,000 people in the EU, while 115,000 work at EU companies operating in Switzerland.

A history of prosperous trade

Underscoring these close economic ties, Switzerland has over the years entered into several agreements with the EU on foreign trade, as well as a number of other joint interests, including research, services, security and asylum.

For example, a Free Trade Agreement reached in 1972 covered...

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