Doris Leuthard: Dependability as a trademark – An economy known around the world for its stability

Which country is building the world’s longest railway tunnel? Which country has the hardest working employees? Which country has the longest alpine glacier – despite climate change? Switzerland, of course!

We have more to offer than just watch­es, chocolate and the Matterhorn. Ac­­­­cording to IMD, we are one of the most competitive countries in the world. By measure of per-ca­pita i­­n­­come, we are amongst the most prosper­­ous countries. In proportion to the num­ber of inhabitants, we have the most Nobel Prize recipients and the second-highest number of patents. The Tra­vel and Tourism Com­peti­tive­­ness Report of the WEF sounds like an advertising pamphlet. Switzerland is rich, indeed!
We possess valuable cultural sites as well as un­­touched landscapes, the traffic infrastructure is im­­peccable, the safe­­­ty standards are high, our training and further education possibilities are our trademarks.

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That was not always the case. As re­­cent­­ly as the mid-19th century, many of our fellow citizens had to go to distant places to make their lives and fortune. Entire tracts of land became depopulated. In a typically Swiss manner, our present situ­­ation was won through hard work. Although geogra­ph­­ically small, economi­cally, we are a medium-sized world power. Since the mid-60s of the 20th century, we have been on a continuous upward trend. On a European scale, we have been enjoying a low level of unemployment and a growing gross domestic product over the past years. Nowadays, we have become the fa­­vourite country of emigration to some of our neighbours as well as a magnet for highly skilled wor­kers. In the 21st century, we have in­­creasingly changed from an industrial to a high-tech location.
At present, many of our companies in the fields of the phar­maceutical, chemical and biotech in­­dustries, of the energetic, ecological and medical technologies, as well as of ma­­chine construction and watch­­making are internationally at the top.

With a 4.3 per cent share in world exports of chemical and pharmaceutical products, Switzerland is the world’s sixth-largest exporting nation. We are seventh in terms of machine exports.

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Swit­­zerland is one of the world’s largest watchmakers. In terms of value, our share in the global production is 50 per cent. When it comes to luxury watches,
Swit­zer­land’s world market share ex­­ceeds 80 per cent. We are one of the world’s most at­­trac­­tive financial centres. There is hardly an­­other country with such an extensive insurance in­­dustry. Some of the world’s best known insurance companies are Swiss. In a world­wide comparison of cities, Zu­­rich and Geneva are considered to have the highest standards of living. Swiss quality is renowned. Our trademarks are pre­­cision, high quality and reliability.

We have become an internationally recognized brand because we refrain from big, spectacular steps, we progress step by step (another Swiss characteristic), and our parliament and people sanction every step through the process of direct democracy.

We are successful because our exceptio­n­­al education and professional trai­­ning system, flexible labour market, ex­­cellent infra­­structure, business friendly legal frame­­work and favourable taxation are always supported by a majority of citizens.
That is the foundation for the kind of social and political stability from which our companies and the entire country derive their economic success.

Our strategy for global competitiveness is twofold. Even as a non-member of the Eu­­ro­­pean Union, we are closely linked to, and an indispensable part of, Europe. A large part of our income is de­­rived from busi­­ness with foreign countries. 63 per cent of our exports and 82 per cent of our im­ports are with the EU. Approximately half of Swiss direct in­­vestments abroad are in the EU.

Swiss businesses have invested nearly 200 billion Swiss francs in the EU, there­by creating 850,000 jobs. Our bilateralism with the EU is the basis for the success of that mu­­tual economic relationship. It is a proven pol­­i­cy, continually en­­dorsed by the Swiss people.

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Despite our proximity to Europe, Swit­zer­land must remember to be present on the world market with high-quality goods and services, particularly in the light of the important global shift of forces. This positioning is be­­com­ing in­­­­­­creasingly difficult. We, too, are feel­­ing growth and competition pressure from newly emerging economies. This is not only a threat, but al­so a great opportunity. In order to assert themselves in the global market­­place, Swiss companies must be­come more innovative, better and faster, and they need access to the market.
That is al­so why, politically, we strongly support a well-functioning and jointly shared world trade system. For the Swiss go­­vernment and for our globally active companies, internationally unified or mu­­tually recognized norms and standards are in­­dispensable. In parallel to our in­­volve­ment in the World Trade Or­­ga­­ni­­za­­tion (WTO), we continue to consolidate our already tightly knit network of bi­­la­­t­­eral free-trade agreements. This provides our companies with the most unimped­­ed market ac­­cess, so as to be able to weather the rough competition and to profit most from the ad­­­van­­tages.

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It is only the combination of that ac­tive foreign trade and investment policy and of a constant effort to reform the do­­mestic economy that makes Swit­zerland an at­­trac­­tive business location. That is why, in the past years, we have purposefully taken down outdated and obsolete structures, for example, in agri­culture and government administration. We have put Switzerland on a com­petitiveness re­­gi­­men. We are rigorously tackling the phenome­­non of rising prices. We invest strongly in edu­­cation and research. In short: With a comprehensive growth policy that inter­­links all areas of political influence, we are ma­­k­­ing sure that Swit­zerland con­­tinues to be a country that offers sensible em­­ployment opportunities and a high stan­­d­­ard of living.

Leuthard_2419The author was born in 1963. She is Fe­deral Counsellor of the Swiss Con­fe­d­­­eration and has been in charge of economic affairs since 1 August, 2006. Doris Leuthard studied law in Zurich, Paris and Calgary. Her main occupation from 1991 was that of lawyer.