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Switzerland owes the high productivity of its economy to its liberal market system, political stability and close ties with foreign economies.
The national currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF). In 2008, Switzerland’s gross domestic product (GDP) was CHF 541,827 mn.
Switzerland is primarily a service economy. 72% of the workforce are employed in the tertiary sector (services), 24% in the secondary sector (industry) and 4% in the primary sector (farming). The main service sector industries are insurance, banking, trade and commerce, and tourism. The secondary sector is dominated by the machinery, electronics, metals and chemical/pharmaceutical industries. The agricultural sector is undergoing changes due to the growing demand for organic produce and more environmentally-friendly production methods.
The real mainstay of the Swiss economy is its highly specialised and flexible small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They make up more than 99% of all registered companies in Switzerland, and employ two-thirds of the total workforce. Many foreign firms and Swiss multinationals have their headquarters in Switzerland and are major players in the Swiss economy.
Switzerland has some of the longest working hours in the world: some 1,800 hours per year per worker. Unemployment is low and industrial relations are generally pretty harmonious and stable. But it was not always so. The turning point came in 1937 with the signing of the “labour accord” by the trade unions and employers in the metal working industry. It stipulated that all future disputes would be settled through arbitration rather than strikes.
As Switzerland is a small country, its home market is limited. It is a big exporter and importer of goods. Trade in goods and services accounts for a comparatively high percentage of its GDP.
Most of the goods and services produced in Switzerland are exported, chiefly to the European Union (two-thirds of all Swiss exports). Its main exports are chemicals, machinery, precision instruments, watches and jewellery.
Well-developed industry and services, as well as the high innovation potential in growth industries like microtechnology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals mean that Switzerland has what it takes to produce state-of-the art, quality goods.
- Road: Switzerland has one of the densest road networks in the world. In 2007 there were 1,800 km of national roads in operation, of which 1,400 km were motorway, 18,000 km A roads and 51,500 km B roads. There are over five million motorised vehicles registered in Switzerland, 4 million of which are passenger vehicles alone. Around 80% of households in Switzerland own at least one car.
- Rail: Switzerland has a 5,100 km-long rail network and has one of the highest capacity utilisations in the world. Every year, Swiss Railways (SBB) transports around 290 million passengers and 60 million tonnes of cargo. In 2008 each person in Switzerland travelled an average of 2,422 km by train. The centrepiece of the Swiss rail system will be the New Transalpine Rail Link (NEAT), which should speed up the flow of north-south traffic. It is currently under construction.
- Air: Switzerland has three international airports – Zurich-Kloten, Geneva and Basle. In 2008, all three observed a rise in passenger numbers, including transit passengers on scheduled and chartered flights. Traveller numbers in 2008 were 22.1 million for Zurich, 11.3 million for Geneva and 4.2 million for Basle.
- Shipping: The Rhine is Switzerland’s only navigable route to the world’s seas. In 2008, over 7.2 million tonnes of freight were transported along the Rhine. Switzerland’s sea-going fleet is stationed in Basle. 200 passenger ships operate across Switzerland’s lakes and rivers, carrying around 13 million passengers every year. There are also close to 100,000 recreational craft registered in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, tourism is a key economic sector, generating 6% of its gross domestic product. The catering and hotel industry employs around 225,000 people in some 30,000 businesses. The Swiss hotel industry, which also includes sanatoria, recorded 37.3 million overnight stays in 2008.
Switzerland’s tourist infrastructure is extensive, making it a year-round destination. There are a great many winter and summer resorts to choose from, not to mention thermal baths and conference hotels. Yet, Switzerland’s most important tourist attractions are its untouched and diverse landscapes as well as its vibrant cultural life. The national tourist board Switzerland Tourism and regional tourist organisations work tirelessly to ensure that Switzerland remains an exciting and attractive tourist destination.
Switzerland’s multilingualism and cultural diversity has given rise to an equally diverse media sector.
- Radio, television and multimedia: The Swiss broadcasting corporation, SRG SSR idée Suisse, runs a total of eight television and 18 radio channels in the four national languages, as well as websites accompanying each of these channels and a teletext service. There are a further 40 local and regional TV channels as well as some 50 private radio stations. Over 85% of Swiss households have cable TV, giving them access to at least 50 domestic and foreign channels. Three out of four households also have a computer with internet access.
- Press: No other country has as many newspapers in proportion to its size as Switzerland. Admittedly, the number of daily newspapers has fallen to 84; there have been several mergers in the newspaper sector. Nevertheless, over 200 newspapers with a total print run of 3.8 million copies are still in circulation. Switzerland also has several free daily newspapers, which are particularly popular with commuters.