Commodity Trading in Switzerland

A concentration of talents

Switzerland benefits from a wide range of competitive factors for commodity trading. Most notable, and globally recognized, is the high density of expertise along the entire commodity value chain. It ranges from commodity trading, shipping and finance to logistics, distribution, inspection, certification, insurance, services and training.

Commodity trading accounts for 4% of Switzerland’s GDP and the 500+ companies active in the industry, overwhelmingly SMEs, provide over 35,000 jobs directly, with related services accounting for many more.

The industry is centered around the global hub of Geneva, with Zug and Lugano having emerged recently as regional hubs of importance for certain specific commodities.

In order for Switzerland to continue to be a global hub for commodity trading, STSA and its members have been active in designing a full suite of academic and professional programmes.

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A major economic contributor

Net receipts from transit trading in Switzerland grew tenfold between 2003 and 2011, from CHF 2 billion to CHF 20 billion.

In 2010 trading replaced Swiss banks' financial services as the country's top services export, and its share of GDP eclipsed that of tourism.

Commodity trading firms account for:

  • over 35,000 direct jobs

In addition, commodity trading companies are major fiscal contributors to public finances as they represent:

  • 22% of the Geneva Canton tax receipts
  • 10% of the Zoug Canton tax receipts
  • 69% of the City of Lugano's tax receipts

A rising Swiss Hub

Owing in part to its stability, status as a financial center and even its time zone, Switzerland has emerged as a leading hub in the global trade in commodities. The available figures illustrate its rapid rise and significant position.

A small land-locked country far from most physical trading routes, Switzerland now accounts for as much as one-third of the global transit trade in vital commodities such as oil, metals and agricultural goods.

Traders here typically buy commodities from suppliers abroad and resell them to clients who are also abroad, meaning goods never touch Swiss soil.

Looking at specific commodities sharpens the picture of a major Swiss hub. One-third of globally traded oil is bought and sold in Geneva. Two-thirds of international trade in base metals (e.g. zinc, copper, aluminium) is handled in Switzerland. Trade in precious metals is prominent as well, a key difference being that they often physically enter the country and are handled by Swiss customs. According to estimates, 70% of the world's gold is refined in Switzerland, particularly in Ticino. Finally, so-called soft commodities show a similar trend: two-thirds of the international cereals trade, over half the coffee trade, half the sugar trade, and the bulk of the cotton trade are handled by Swiss-based firms. Unsurprisingly Switzerland is also a major importer of cocoa for its famed chocolate.

Source: Swiss academies factsheet vol. 11, n°1, 2016

A long tradition of international commodity trading

Pioneering Swiss commodity trading firms

Switzerland has given birth over the years to some of the world's largest commodity trading companies.

Discover the long and rich history of some of these fims and see how they played a leading role in developing international trade.

The 4th edition of our annual Commodities magazine takes the reader right into the heart of the Swiss-based physical commodity trading industry. With new quantitative data on the activity as well as contributors from international and Swiss authorities, academics as well as authors from multiple trading houses, this expanded edition is a must read for anyone interested in the industry.

The Volkart brothers were among the first major Swiss commodity trading firms.

Before becoming the world leaders in coffee trading, the company focused on cotton from the Indian sub-continent. Right is the firm structure as of 1925. (picture courtesy of the Volkart Archives)