Swiss economic policy is characterized by the fact that responsibilities are shared between several entities and at different levels of government, with the exception of monetary policy, conducted by the Swiss central bank. The federal government’s ability to pursue its own economic policy agenda is therefore limited, as it shares some competencies, such as tax policy, with the cantons and local authorities, while it has greater powers over competition and labor market policy.
The economy is based on quality production and skilled labor. The main sectors include microtechnology, hi-tech, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, banks and insurance. At the same time, since the country lacks mineral resources and has a limited domestic market, its prosperity depends on foreign trade. Since the 1990s, economic openness has increased significantly and imports represent about one third of GDP, as have exports. Switzerland has traditionally been in favor of trade liberalization, although tariffs on agricultural products remain quite high. It mainly trades with the EU (Germany is the first trading partner) and, to a lesser extent, with the United States. The country is a net importer of food, energy and raw materials, while it exports high value-added goods, in particular chemicals and pharmaceuticals, machinery, precision instruments, watches and jewelry.
The financial sector is of great importance and contributes more than 11% to the value creation of the Swiss economy. The expansion of the sector, which has a long tradition, has also occurred thanks to the country’s location in the heart of Europe, political stability, strong currency, laws that protect banking secrecy and a high level of development. In addition, the country is home to the Bank for International Settlements, an international organization that promotes international monetary and financial cooperation. A radical change should take place, albeit progressively, after the entry into force of a law that obliges credit institutions to provide data on foreign account holders to foreign authorities who request it. The measure, banking privacy which has made Switzerland the vault of shady financial transactions.
As for the tourism sector, although it is recording a decline, it remains a significant economic resource. Switzerland was affected by the global economic crisis to a lesser extent than other European countries: in 2009 the Swiss GDP fell by 1.9%, but already in 2010 the growth rate was 2.6%, however, falling to 1.9% in 2011 and, subsequently, to 1.7%. After the shocks resulting from the crisis, GDP continued to grow. The banking system has also returned to relative stability, but a gradual decline in a significant area of untaxed assets from abroad is nevertheless expected.
Since Switzerland lacks oil, gas and coal, the two cornerstones of energy policy they are the increase of policies regarding renewable energies and the development of energy efficiency programs. Thanks to renewables and nuclear power, the country produces more than half of the energy it consumes. On the territory there are five nuclear power plants which in 2006 produced about 40% of the energy consumed. In 2007, the government announced the possibility of building new plants. Furthermore, although dependent on hydrocarbon imports, the diversification of the supply of oil and gas guarantees energy security. Oil, which continues to be the top source in the energy mix (39.7%), is imported from Libya, Nigeria, former Soviet republics, Algeria, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Kuwait via pipelines that pass through France and Italy.