Bilateral Economic Relations

On behalf of Switzerland’s foreign economic policy

Switzerland is a small, open economy. It benefits from international trade in goods and services and from investment abroad. Good economic policy relations with the various countries of the world are essential. The Bilateral Economic Relations Division promotes these relations and represents Switzerland’s economic and trade policy interests abroad. In so doing, the Division adheres to the strategic orientation of Swiss foreign economic policy set out by the Federal Council in 2004.

In addition, the Bilateral Economic Relations Division is responsible for controlling exports of war materiel and so-called dual-use goods, i.e. goods that can be used for both military and civilian purposes. The Division is also responsible for decreeing coercive measures to implement sanctions imposed by the UN, the OSCE or our key trading partners.

Bilateral Services for Countries

The aim of our work is to further develop and consolidate Switzerland’s well-established network of foreign economic policy contacts. In order to do this we have divided the world into four regions: America; Europe and Central Asia; the Middle East and Africa; and Asia-Pacific. We serve as an intermediary and coordination office within SECO and regularly liaise with a number of government agencies, Swiss diplomatic representations abroad and foreign representations in Switzerland. We bring Swiss and foreign administration experts together to discuss technical concerns.

Foreign economic policy is also a special interest policy because it influences the framework conditions under which Swiss firms are able to benefit from foreign markets. Liaising with business associations, chambers of commerce and Swiss firms in Switzerland and abroad is important. In addition, we gather country and region-specific information and prepare measures to strengthen the competitiveness of the Swiss economy on important foreign markets. However, we also take into account individual concerns relating to specific countries. If a Swiss firm informs us about a specific problem with a foreign government, we support and advise the firm in cooperation with our diplomatic representation on-site.

The head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER and the director of SECO travel abroad on official missions and regularly receive representatives of foreign governments in Switzerland. Our core tasks also include preparing for and attending these meetings and coordinating the meeting agenda in Switzerland and abroad. Swiss business representatives are often invited to these meetings or included in trade missions. In this respect, we act as a direct liaison for the Swiss economy. Important concerns on the part of Swiss business are thereby given the opportunity to be heard on a political level abroad and can be registered at an institutional level, for example, in the form of bilateral economic agreements.

Export Controls

The supervision of the production, trade, brokerage and transfer (import, export, transit) of war materiel and weapons technology ensures compliance with Switzerland’s international obligations and the protection of its foreign policy principles. When evaluating applications for export, controlling authorities take into account the preservation of peace, international security and regional stability, but also respect for human rights and Swiss development cooperation efforts. The position of other countries involved in implementing export control measures is also taken into account. Export controls are only effective if they are coordinated as extensively as possible at international level. The War Material Act forms the basis for these controls.

Due to its highly developed industry, Switzerland is a major exporter of dual-use goods, which in addition to precision machine tools, also include chemicals and laboratory equipment. Appropriate controls should prevent such goods from being mis-used to produce weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems or to help a state to build up its conventional weapons to the extent that it would represent a threat to global or regional security. The Goods Control Act forms the basis for the implementation of decisions regarding international agreements (e.g. the Chemical Weapons Convention) or optional international control regimes, in which Switzerland participates. In terms of this act, armaments that are not covered by the War Material Act, such as military training aircraft and simulators, are also controlled.


Sanctions are increasingly imposed in conflict situations to implement international law and fundamental human rights. Non-military coercive measures approved by the UN Security Council, such as financial and trade restrictions, are binding on Switzerland. In addition, the Federal Council decides whether Switzerland wishes to adopt the sanctions of its key trade partners (in particular the EU) or the OSCE. It is our duty to implement these sanctions in Switzerland. The Embargo Act provides the legal basis for the adoption and implementation of sanctions. Examples of the implementation of UN sanctions can be seen in the ordinances on measures against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Ordinance on Measures against Myanmar provides an example of the independent imposition of sanctions based on the EU model.

Last modification 04.02.2016

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