Switzerland's economic relationship with China goes back to the late 18th century when colonial powers held foreign concessions in China, and Swiss traders benefited from consular protection, unequal contracts and extraterritoriality rights. After the Chinese revolutions in the early 20th century, Swiss-Sino economic relations were heavily compromised by Japanese hegemony in mainland China, and Switzerland's proximity to European colonial powers. It was not until the end of World War II, when Switzerland along with other European countries abandoned colonial trade and moved from trading textiles and food to watches and machinery.
Sino-Swiss economic relations have accelerated since Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms in the early 1980s. Switzerland's trade with China is not in deficit as other industrialized nations trade with China. Two way trade between the two countries is growing at an annual rate of 20–30 percent. In 2007, Swiss exports were valued at SFr5.4 billion or US $5.36 billion. China is now Switzerland's top trading partner in Asia, ahead of Japan.
Swiss firms have been investing in China substantially over the last decade. There are approximately 300 Swiss firms with more than 700 branches operating in China with a total employment of 55 000 people. Chinese firms have a small but growing presence in Switzerland as a base to expand in Europe. Chinese firms are not only entering markets for basic consumer goods such as textiles and shoes but also for chemical intermediates, pharmaceuticals, high technology parts, and telecommunications.
In May 2013, during his official visit to the alpine nation, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed the first free trade agreement between the two countries worth more than 26 bn. Direct exports from Switzerland to China account for 22.8 bn in that deal, which was heralded as a "real milestone" by Swiss President Ueli Maurer. Switzerland has a positive trade balance with China, and both countries are expected to profit from export guarantees, protection of intellectual property and financial cooperations between their largest banks.
- Two-way trade blossoms with China
- Swiss free trade deal underscores China's globalisation: Li haveeruonline (retrieved 26 May 2013).