Export controls

The underside of rifle cartridges.
Switzerland controls the import, export, transit and brokerage of goods, including war materiel. © Keystone

Switzerland controls the import, export, transit and brokerage of goods. It implements international rules designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the stockpiling of conventional weapons, and which serve to implement sanctions. Export controls in the area of war materiel also serve to fulfil international obligations and to safeguard foreign and security policy interests.

The following categories are subject to controls:

  • goods covered by sanctions
  • nuclear goods
  • goods with both civilian and military applications (dual-use)
  • armaments (specific military goods and war materiel)
  • goods that could be used for the development, manufacture or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (catch-all)

Licensing bodies are the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), for certain nuclear goods, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

Export controls and sanctions

Safeguards, SFOE

The FDFA plays its statutory role in the licencing process and makes its expertise available. It is consulted on individual applications for export trade concerning the licensing of war materiel as well as goods subject to goods control legislation. After review, it submits its assessment to the SECO.

Together, the FDFA, the SECO and the other authorities involved ensure that Switzerland fulfils its international obligations and that export trade in the area of war materiel is consistent with foreign policy.

Control of war materiel

Export trade, i.e. export, transit, trade, brokerage of war materiel, or the transfer of intellectual property require an individual licence from the SECO. The SECO decides on applications in agreement with the FDFA and, depending on the content, in cooperation with other departments.

Arms Control and Arms Control Policy, SECO) (de, fr, it).

The FDFA reviews on a case-by-case basis whether an export trade complies with international law, international obligations and the principles of Swiss foreign policy, and submits its assessment to the SECO once this risk analysis has been completed.

The FDFA's internal analysis is based on the legal authorisation criteria. Assessments take into account the following:

  • the maintenance of peace, international security and regional stability
  • the human rights situation in the country of destination
  • possible contradiction with the principles and goals of Swiss development cooperation 
  • risk of misuse of the materiel by the end recipient
  • risk that the exported weapons will be passed on to an undesirable end recipient

In addition to reviewing applications, the FDFA is also involved in multilateral processes, domestic policy matters and in drafting legislation. In this regard it works closely with the SECO.

Disarmament and non-proliferation

International obligations, SECO (de, fr, it)

Control of nuclear goods, goods with both civilian and military applications (dual-use), specific military goods , and nationally controlled goods

A licence from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is required for the import, export and transit of nuclear goods, goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes (dual-use goods), specific military goods and goods that are subject to national control under the Weapons Act or the Explosives Act; and from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) for certain nuclear goods. The SECO submits certain cases to the export control group consisting of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) , the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications (DETEC) for decision. The Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) is also consulted.

Export controls of industrial products (dual-use) and specific military goods (licensing), SECO

The FDFA examines applications on a case-by-case basis and carries out a risk analysis based on the refusal criteria of the goods control legislation and submits its assessment to the SECO.

In addition to its role in assessing applications, the FDFA is also involved in multilateral processes, domestic policy matters and the drafting of legislation. In this regard it works closely with the SECO.

Disarmament and non-proliferation

Export Control Policy Dual-Use, SECO