The Swiss engineering, electrical and metal industry is a key branch of the Swiss economy. With exports surpassing 80 billion Swiss francs (CHF), which is equivalent to 80 per cent of production, the companies in this industry generated a downright record value in 2008. Those 80 billion represent a 38.7-per cent share of the total Swiss export of goods. Our most important buyer markets are in the EU and EFTA – where two thirds of our products are purchased.
Our commercial success is measurable. Globally, Switzerland ranks eleventh among machine-exporting countries. In certain product areas, our industry actually reaches top positions. We are second place in paper-processing machines.
Our textile and packaging machines come in fourth and fifth. The companies in our textile machine sector boast an exceptionally high export ratio: More than 98 per cent of their production is exported. That export success manifests itself in the number of jobs offered in Switzerland: With roughly 355,000 jobs, the engineering, electrical and metal industry is the largest industrial employer in Switzerland.
We owe that economic weight to the business success of around 1,000 of our small and medium-sized enterprises as well as larger firms. However, they, too, need support. On the one hand, they need a strong partner with political influence, who represents their interests in the political process; on the other hand, they need a point of contact for practical help with their day-to-day business.
Swissmem has adopted that task as opinion leader and service centre for the engineering, electrical and metal industry.
Opinion leader and service centre for the engineering, electrical and metal industry
Opinion leader: The products and services of our companies are in worldwide demand. At the basis of that lies the international competitiveness of both the individual companies and the entire production location. A company can assure its competitiveness mostly on its own. But whether a certain law is employer-friendly or causes massive amounts of additional costs is something individual firms have little influence over.
This is where Swissmem brings leverage: Being able to participate in shaping the structural conditions of the location of Switzerland requires economic weight and extensive branch-related know-how. Swissmem has both. It is our continuous groundwork that has turned us into an economic- and employer-political competency centre for the engineering, electrical and metal industry. Such competency enables us to voice the branch’s desire for a stronger Swiss research and technology location, to present employer interests effectively to social partners, public authorities and the public, to sensitize large sections of the population to improving access to the European market, and to influence educational policy significantly.
Our activities start where those of individual companies reach their limits. With that in mind, Swissmem became actively involved, at the beginning of the year, in extending the free movement of people with the EU and expanding it to the new EU members Romania and Bulgaria – issues that had been controversial in Switzerland, but then were endorsed in a referendum with a clear 60-per-cent majority.
Swissmem has access to an information network comprising authorities and economic organizations in Switzerland and Europe, which is unique for the branch. This puts a service centre at the disposal of the members which they can turn to, for example, with legal and export-related questions. Topics may include Swiss or European contract law, competition law or intellectual property law, and the referral of foreign attorneys. Knowledge of foreign technical regulations, especially European safety rules, is an important condition when tapping export markets.SMEs are particularly dependent on the advice given by the association.
Sample contracts efficiently support SMEs: Take the following example of our services offered to member firms. A small company cannot afford to employ its own lawyer to evaluate contractual issues. Hence, the association offers a large selection of sample contracts in the most common languages, which enable exporters – often with the support of a lawyer from the association – to wrap up their business. The tried and tested general conditions for delivery, installation, maintenance, repair and handling, which are available through the association, play an important role in this regard. Statistics can be crucial in the assessment of a market. The quarterly statistics and situation reviews depicting the economic development of the branch in Switzerland as well as the statistics from the foreign sister associations, with which Swissmem is affiliated within the European umbrella association of the engineering, electrical and metal industry in Brussels (Orgalime), are important tools.
Opening up new markets
Further key activities of Swissmem consist in observing the economic developments on the global markets and launching initiatives for opening up new sales areas. The export of strategic goods raises very specific export-related questions. Not only when it comes to war material but also, and in particular, so-called dual-use goods, which can be used in the production of strategic goods as well as for civilian purposes. In this area, Swissmem is mandated by the federal government to act as an authorized expert.
Sales promotion activities
Export issues also play an important role in the service offerings of the branch’s technical units. Both the conveyance of branch-related market information and the participation in foreign trade shows, exhibits, symposia and other sales promotion activities are essential. Swissmem’s membership in European sector committees as well as the presence of the Swiss standardization association in the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) offer opportunities to represent the branch’s interests in international specialist panels such as standardization committees. This creates a network of connections that domestic and foreign firms can use to exchange experiences in the areas of marketing, production and calculation as well as implementing standards and regulations.
The author was born in 1967 and graduated with a law degree from the university of Fribourg in 1992. In 1995, he passed the bar examination for the canton of Aargau, and in 2002, he obtained a master’s degree in international economic law. Peter Dietrich has been Director of Swissmem, the association of the Swiss engineering, electrical and metal industry, since May 2008.