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Swiss companies are extremely competitive in world markets. In some branches, more than 90% of goods and services are exported. The best-known export items are watches, chocolate and cheese, but in fact mechanical and electrical engineering and chemicals together account for over half Swiss export revenues.

The areas where Switzerland is a leading supplier include looms, paper and printing machinery, blanking tools for metalworking, elevators and escalators, packaging equipment and rack-and-pinion railways. However, many of the components for these items are now manufactured abroad.

Consultancy, insurance and tourism are also part of the export trade. Exports of goods and services alone amount to about 25,000 francs - 16,000 dollars - per head per year, according to the OSEC business network, which promotes Swiss foreign trade.

Switzerland's main trading partners are European Union members. By far the biggest partner is Germany. In 2010 it was followed in descending order by Italy, France, the Netherlands, the US and the United Kingdom. In 2009, 59.7% of exports went to EU countries, and 78% of the imports came from EU states. This is despite the fact that the Swiss have consistently voted to remain outside the body.

Swiss economic policy has always been based on free trade, with low import duties and virtually no import quotas - the only exception being for agricultural produce. Even here many of the restrictions are being eased as a result of recent agreements with the EU.

"Every third computer mouse sold world-wide is produced by a Swiss company, Logitech. One third of the most sophisticated textile machines sold world-wide are Swiss made. Nine out of ten ball-point pen tips are made on Swiss machines. Microcut, another Swiss company, revolutionised the precision engineering industry by devising a new automation system. The watch industry remains at the cutting edge of technology. Last but not least, Swiss high tech made it to Mars. The electrical micro engine driving Pathfinder, the robot which explored the surface of Mars, was produced by Maxon in Sarnen."

Pascal Couchepin, Federal Councillor for Economic Affairs, 2001

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