On August 1, Switzerland celebrates its national holiday. The Swiss National Day was established only in 1891 and it was only in 1993 that the hardworking Swiss agreed that they could all take the day off. But the event commemorated on this day actually took place more than 700 years ago – back in 1291, when the first three cantons united into a confederacy and swore the oath to act jointly if their freedoms were threatened by external aggressors. That oath had set up the beginnings of a marvelous country, which in this year was ranked by the US magazine Forbes Traveler to be the safest one for living.
The territory of present-day Switzerland, thanks to its geographical location with transit routes over the Alps, had been a desirable possession for European rulers through the ages. The country had been in the process of a slow formation, as regions gradually come together to make up a loose confederation, whose members gave each other mutual support. It was as late as in 1948 that Switzerland was established as a more centralized federal state. In terms of the administrative division, the country comprises 26 cantons. Its population is about 7.6 million.
There are the four official languages in Switzerland: French, German, Italian and Romansh (of Rumantsch, one of Rhaeto-Romanic languages), which once in a way is forgotten in reviews. This rare Romanic language is spoken by some 39 thous. people, mainly in the canton of Graubünden.
The Swiss economy has always been based on the free trade with low import duties and in fact no import quotas, the only exception being for agricultural produce. But even in the latter sector in recent years there has been a relaxation of restrictions as a result of some agreements reached with the EU. In some sectors, more than 90 per cent of goods and services are exported. The best-known Swiss goods world-wide are watches, chocolate and cheese, but in fact more than a half of country’s export revenues are provided by the electrical and mechanical engineering, and chemical industry.
Switzerland is a leading supplier of weaver's looms, machinery for producing paper and printing, blanking tools for metalworking, elevators and escalators, packaging equipment and rack-and-pinion railways. However, rather a big number of components for these goods are now manufactured abroad.
Consultancy services, insurance and tourism are also items of the export trade.
The main trading partners of Switzerland are EU member states. In 2005, 62.3 per cent of the exports went to the EU and 80 per cent of the imports came from EU states.
Every third computer mouse sold world-wide is produced by Logitech, a Swiss company. One third of the most advanced textile machinery sold world-wide originates from Switzerland. Nine out of ten ball-point pen tips are produced on Swiss made machines. A Swiss company Microcut has revolutionized the precision engineering industry through working out a new automation system. The electrical micro engine that was inside of Pathfinder, the robot which explored the surface of Mars, was produced by Maxon, a Swiss company.
What is commonly called “Swiss cheese” abroad is in fact Emmental, the most known out of Swiss cheeses. Holes in cheese are caused by bubbles of carbon dioxide building up in the cheese as it slowly matures. However, a myth has to be denied: most of Swiss cheeses do not have holes.
Just as banks, cheeses and chocolate, “Swiss watches” are a characteristic of a high quality. Centers of the watch making industry are concentrated mainly in western Switzerland, in the arc formed by the Jura Mountains, which stretches from Geneva in the south to Basle in the north. For the sake of attractiveness for tourists, the area was named Watch Valley.
The clock and watch making in Switzerland started in Geneva in the mid 16th century, in part thanks to Calvin, a great reformer of the church and a dire advocate of punctuality. He encouraged Hugenots, who were persecuted in their native France, to take refuge in Geneva, which by then had become a Protestant stronghold. Many wealthy Protestants settled in the city at those times, and they started watch making and established the famous banking system of Switzerland.
The “Swiss made” label of origin is strictly regulated by law; it is the proof that both mechanism and watch of watch or clock itself were assembled and inspected in Switzerland and at least 50 per cent of the total value of the components and the watch also account for Swiss-made components.
About 95 per cent of watches, made in Switzerland, go to exports. Watches are the third largest item in country’s exports, after products of the chemical industry and mechanical engineering. The largest markets for Swiss watches are Hong Kong, the US, Japan, France and Italy. In 2008, Switzerland sold approx. USD 14.5 bln worth of watches.
However, the most accurate clock ever developed in Switzerland, the atomic clocks FOCS-1, started operating in 2004. It stands in a laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office of Metrology METAS in Bern. Even in 30 million years' time, it would not have deviated by more than one second!
Switzerland and UkraineOur trade relations with Switzerland adequately reflect an overall trend towards a decrease in our imports: the import of Swiss goods into Ukraine in January – May 2009 declined almost by 75 per cent! In place of that, the export was up by almost a third. The total volume of the bilateral trade turnover came to USD 2 bln in 2008. The main items of Ukraine’s exports to Switzerland are raw materials, products of metallurgy and agriculture, oil products, fertilizers. The imports are dominated by weed and pest killers, medicines, machines, equipment, devices, lathes and looms. Switzerland is one of the largest consumers of Ukrainian services – the fourth largest one after Russia, the UK and Cyprus (2008).