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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Switzerland is welcoming to international investors, with a positive overall investment climate. The Swiss federal government enacts laws and regulations governing corporate structure, the financial system, and immigration, and concludes international trade and investment treaties.  However, Switzerland’s 26 cantons (analogous to U.S. states) and largest municipalities have significant independence to shape investment policies locally, including incentives to attract investment.  This federal approach has helped the Swiss maintain long-term economic and political stability, a transparent legal system, extensive and reliable infrastructure, efficient capital markets, and an excellent quality of life for the country’s 8.4 million inhabitants.  Many U.S. firms base their European or regional headquarters in Switzerland, drawn to the country’s low corporate tax rates, productive and multilingual workforce, and well-maintained infrastructure and transportation networks.  U.S. companies also choose Switzerland as a gateway to markets in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and beyond.  Furthermore, U.S. companies select Switzerland because hiring and firing practices are less restrictive than in other European locations, and due to the availability of a skilled workforce.

In 2019, the World Economic Forum rated Switzerland the world’s fifth most competitive economy.  This high ranking reflects the country’s sound institutional environment and high levels of technological and scientific research and development.  With very few exceptions, Switzerland welcomes foreign investment, accords national treatment, and does not impose, facilitate, or allow barriers to trade.  According to the OECD, Swiss public administration ranks high globally in output efficiency and enjoys the highest public confidence of any national government in the OECD.  Switzerland’s judiciary system posts the shortest trial length of any of the OECD’s 37 member countries.  The country’s competitive economy and openness to investment brought Switzerland’s cumulative inward direct investment to USD 1.3 trillion in 2018 (latest available figures) according to the Swiss National Bank, although nearly half of this amount is invested in regional hubs or headquarters that further invest in other countries.

Many of Switzerland’s cantons have used tax incentives to attract investment to their jurisdictions, including tax waivers for new firms for up to ten years in some cases.  However, following criticism from the European Union – as a bloc, Switzerland’s top trading partner – this practice was strongly curtailed by a new law passed in 2019.  The Federal Act on Tax Reform and Swiss Pension System Financing (TRAF) entered into force on January 1, 2020, obliging cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies.  However, the law allows cantons to continue to set their own cantonal rates and offer incentives for corporate investment through deductions and preferential tax treatment, for example for income derived from patents or expenses related to research and development.

Individual and corporate tax rates vary widely across Switzerland’s cantons.  In 2019, Zurich, which is sometimes used as a reference point for corporate location tax calculations within Switzerland, had a combined corporate tax rate of 21.15 percent, which includes municipal, cantonal, and federal tax. The effective tax rate in Zurich was expected to fall to 19.7 percent in 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.  The United States and Switzerland have a bilateral tax treaty, for which a new protocol on information sharing was ratified in 2019.

Key sectors that have attracted significant investments in Switzerland include IT, precision engineering, scientific instruments, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, and machine building.  Switzerland hosts a significant number of startups, including a sizeable ecosystem for companies in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.

Switzerland is a highly innovative economy with strong overall intellectual property protection.  Switzerland enforces intellectual property rights linked to patents and trademarks effectively, and new amendments to the country’s Copyright Act to strengthen online copyright enforcement led to Switzerland’s removal from USTR’s Special 301 Watch List in 2020.

Some formerly public Swiss monopolies continue to retain market dominance despite partial or full privatization.  As a result, foreign investors sometimes find it difficult to enter these markets (e.g. telecommunications, certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurances and banking services, and salt).  The Swiss agricultural sector remains protected and heavily subsidized, with direct subsidy payments comprising two-thirds of an average farm’s profits.  However, this is starting to change: newly negotiated trade agreements, including between the European Free Trade Association (of which Switzerland is a member) and Mercosur, contain provisions which would open Swiss markets to new levels of agricultural imports.

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein’s investment conditions are identical in most key aspects to those in Switzerland, due to its integration into the Swiss economy.  The two countries form a customs union and Swiss authorities are responsible for implementing import and export regulations.

Both Liechtenstein and Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, including Iceland and Norway), an intergovernmental trade organization and free trade area that operates in parallel with the European Union (EU).  Liechtenstein participates in the EU single market through the European Economic Area (EEA), unlike Switzerland, which has opted for a set of bilateral agreements with the EU instead.

Liechtenstein has a stable and open economy employing 39,653 people (2018 – latest figures available), exceeding its domestic population of 39,137 (2018) and requiring a substantial number of foreign workers.  In 2018, 70.4 percent of the Liechtenstein workforce were foreigners, mainly Swiss, Austrians and Germans, most of whom commute daily to Liechtenstein.  Liechtenstein was granted an exception to the EU’s Free Movement of People Agreement, enabling the country not to grant residence permits to its workers.

Liechtenstein is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.  Liechtenstein’s gross domestic product per capita (at current USD) amounted to USD 179,258 in 2018.  According to the Liechtenstein Statistical Yearbook, the services sector, particularly in finance, accounts for three-fifths of Liechtenstein’s jobs, followed by the manufacturing sector (particularly mechanical engineering, machine tools, precision instruments, and dental products), which employs nearly 40 percent of the workforce.  Agriculture accounts for less than 1 percent of the country’s employment.

Liechtenstein’s corporate tax rate, at 12.5 percent, is one of the lowest in Europe.  Capital gains, inheritance, and gift taxes have been abolished.  The Embassy has no recorded complaints from U.S. investors stemming from market restrictions in Liechtenstein.  The United States and Liechtenstein do not have a bilateral income tax treaty.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 4 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 36 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2019 1 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2018 USD 278,044 https://www.bea.gov/data/intl-trade-investment/direct-investment-country-and-industry
World Bank GNI per capita 2018 USD 84,410 http://data.worldbank.org/
indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

With the exception of its agricultural sector, foreign investment into Switzerland is generally not hampered by significant barriers, with no reported discrimination against foreign investors or foreign-owned investments.  Incidents of trade discrimination do exist, for example with regards to agricultural goods such as bovine genetics products.

A Swiss government-affiliated non-profit organization, Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE), has a nationwide mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Confederation.  SGE promotes Switzerland as an economic hub and fosters exports, imports, and investments.  Some city and cantonal governments offer access to an ombudsman, who may address a wide variety of issues involving individuals and the government, but does not focus exclusively on investment issues.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic enterprises may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises in Switzerland.  Switzerland does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment; the Federal Assembly instructed the Federal Council to prepare one in March 2020, a process expected to take two years.  There are some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurance and banking services, and the trade in salt.  Restrictions (in the form of domicile requirements) also exist in air and maritime transport, hydroelectric and nuclear power, operation of oil and gas pipelines, and the transportation of explosive materials.  Additionally, the following legal restrictions apply within Switzerland:

Corporate boards: The board of directors of a company registered in Switzerland must consist of a majority of Swiss citizens residing in Switzerland; at least one member of the board of directors who is authorized to represent the company (i.e. to sign legal documents) must be domiciled in Switzerland.  If the board of directors consists of a single person, this person must have Swiss citizenship and be domiciled in Switzerland.  Foreign-controlled companies usually meet these requirements by nominating Swiss directors who hold shares and perform functions on a fiduciary basis.  Mitigating these requirements is the fact that the manager of a company need not be a Swiss citizen and company shares can be controlled by foreigners.  The establishment of a commercial presence by persons or enterprises without legal status under Swiss law requires a cantonal establishment authorization.  These requirements do not generally pose a major hardship or impediment for U.S. investors.

Hostile takeovers: Swiss corporate equity can be issued in the form of either registered shares (in the name of the holder) or bearer shares.  Provided the shares are not listed on a stock exchange, Swiss companies may, in their articles of incorporation, impose certain restrictions on the transfer of registered shares to prevent hostile takeovers by foreign or domestic companies (article 685a of the Code of Obligations).  Hostile takeovers can also be annulled by public companies under certain circumstances; the company must cite in its statutes significant justification (relevant to the survival, conduct, and purpose of their business) to prevent or hinder a takeover by a foreign entity.  Furthermore, public corporations may limit the number of registered shares that can be held by any shareholder to a percentage of the issued registered stock.  In practice, many corporations limit the number of shares to 2-5 percent of the relevant stock.  Under the public takeover provisions of the 2015 Federal Act on Financial Market Infrastructures and Market Conduct in Securities and Derivatives Trading and its 2019 amendments, a formal notification is required when an investor purchases more than 3 percent of a Swiss company’s shares.  An “opt-out” clause is available for firms that do not want to be taken over by a hostile bidder, but such opt-outs must be approved by a super-majority of shareholders, and must take place well in advance of any takeover attempt.

Banking: Those wishing to establish banking operations in Switzerland must obtain prior approval from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), a largely independent agency administered under the Swiss Federal Department of Finance.  FINMA promotes confidence in financial markets and works to protect customers, creditors, and investors.  FINMA approval of bank operations is generally granted if the following conditions are met: reciprocity on the part of the foreign state; the foreign bank’s name must not give the impression that the bank is Swiss; the bank must adhere to Swiss monetary and credit policy; and a majority of the bank’s management must have their permanent residence in Switzerland.  Otherwise, foreign banks are subject to the same regulatory requirements as domestic banks.

Banks organized under Swiss law must inform FINMA before they open a branch, subsidiary, or representation abroad.  Foreign or domestic investors must inform FINMA before acquiring or disposing of a qualified majority of shares of a bank organized under Swiss law.  If exceptional temporary capital outflows threaten Swiss monetary policy, the Swiss National Bank, the country’s independent central bank, may require other institutions to seek approval before selling foreign bonds or other financial instruments.  Government deposit insurance of individual current accounts held in Swiss banks is limited to CHF 100,000 per client per bank.

Insurance: A federal ordinance requires the placement of all risks physically situated in Switzerland with companies located in the country.  Therefore, it is necessary for foreign insurers wishing to provide liability coverage in Switzerland to establish a subsidiary or branch in-country.

U.S. investors have not identified any specific restrictions that create market access challenges for foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) September 2017 Trade Policy Review of Switzerland and Liechtenstein includes investment information.  Other reports containing elements referring to the investment climate in Switzerland include the OECD Economic Survey of November 2017.

  • Link to the WTO report:

https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp_rep_e.htm#bycountry 

Business Facilitation

The Swiss government-affiliated non-profit organization Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE) has a mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland on behalf of the Swiss Confederation.  SGE promotes Switzerland as an economic hub and fosters exports, imports, and investments.  Larger regional offices include the Greater Geneva-Berne Area (which covers large parts of Western Switzerland), the Greater Zurich Area, and the Basel Area.  Each canton has a business promotion office dedicated to helping facilitate real estate location, beneficial tax arrangements, and employee recruitment plans.  These regional and cantonal investment promotion agencies do not require a minimum investment or job-creation threshold in order to provide assistance. However, these offices generally focus resources on attracting medium-sized entities that have the potential to create between 50 and 249 jobs in their region.

References:

Switzerland has a dual system for granting work permits and allowing foreigners to create their own companies in Switzerland.  Employees who are citizens of the EU/EFTA area can benefit from the EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement.  U.S. citizens who are not citizens of an EU/EFTA country and want to become self-employed in Switzerland must meet Swiss labor market requirements.  The criteria for admittance, usually not creating a hindrance for U.S. persons, are contained in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA), the Decree on Admittance, Residence and Employment (VZAE) and the provisions of the FNA and the VZAE.

Setting up a company in Switzerland requires registration at the relevant cantonal Commercial Registry.  The cost for registering a company is typically USD 1,300 – USD 15,200, depending on the company type.  These costs mainly cover the Public Notary and entry into the Commercial Registry.

Other steps/procedures for registration include: 1) placing paid-in capital in an escrow account with a bank; 2) drafting articles of association in the presence of a notary public; 3) filing a deed certifying the articles of association with the local commercial register to obtain a legal entity registration; 4) paying the stamp tax at a post office or bank after receiving an assessment by mail; 5) registering for VAT; and 6) enrolling employees in the social insurance system (federal and cantonal authorities).

The World Bank Doing Business Report 2020 ranks Switzerland 36th in the ease of doing business among the 190 countries surveyed, and 81st in the ease of starting a business, with a six-step registration process and 10 days required to set up a company.

Outward Investment

While Switzerland does not explicitly promote or incentivize outward investment, Switzerland’s export promotion agency Switzerland Global Enterprise facilitates overseas market entry for Swiss companies through its Swiss Business Hubs in several countries, including the United States.  Switzerland does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The United States and Switzerland do not have a bilateral investment agreement (BIT).  Switzerland has concluded numerous investment protection treaties with developing and emerging market economies.  A total of 111 BITs and 34 relevant Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with investment commitments are in force.

See the UNCTAD Investment Policy Hub for a full listing of BITs: https://investmentpolicyhub.unctad.org/IIA/CountryBits/203#iiaInnerMenu 

Currently, Switzerland (or the European Free Trade Association, of which Switzerland is a member) is in various stages of discussions regarding FTAs with Algeria, Belarus, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, MERCOSUR, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Switzerland concluded an Income Tax Treaty with the United States in 1996.  https://www.irs.gov/businesses/international-businesses/switzerland-tax-treaty-documents .  A 2009 Protocol to this Treaty entered into force in September 2019 after ratification by the U.S. Senate.  The protocol allows greater information exchange to bolster tax compliance and combat tax evasion.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Swiss government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster a competitive investment climate.  Proposed laws and regulations are open for three-month public comment from interested parties, interest groups, cantons, and cities before being discussed within the bicameral parliament or promulgated by the appropriate regulatory authority.  Authorities take comments into account carefully, particularly since proposals may be subject to optional or automatic referenda that allow Swiss voters to reject or accept the proposals.  Only in rare instances – such as the case of the extension of a moratorium until 2021 on planting GMO crops – are regulations reviewed on the basis of political or customer preferences rather than solely on the basis of scientific analysis.

International Regulatory Considerations

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.  However, Switzerland adopts many EU standards in line with a series of agreements with the EU.

The WTO concluded in 2017 that Switzerland has regularly notified its draft technical regulations, ordinances, and conformity assessment procedures to the WTO TBT Committee.  Switzerland has been a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) since September 2, 2015.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Swiss civil law is codified in the Swiss Civil Code (which governs the status of individuals, family law, inheritance law, and property law) and in the Swiss Code of Obligations (which governs contracts, torts, commercial law, company law, law of checks and other payment instruments).  Switzerland’s civil legal system is divided into public and private law.  Public law governs the organization of the state, as well as the relationships between the state and private individuals or other entities, such as companies.  Constitutional law, administrative law, tax law, criminal law, criminal procedure, public international law, civil procedure, debt enforcement, and bankruptcy law are sub-divisions of public law.  Private law governs relationships among individuals or entities.  Intellectual property law (copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc.) is an area of private law.  Labor is governed by both private and public law.

All cantons have a high court, which includes a specialized commercial court in four cantons (Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen and Aargau).  The organization of the judiciary differs by canton; smaller cantons have only one court, while larger cantons have multiple courts.  Cantonal high court decisions can be appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court.  The court system is independent, competent, and fair.

Switzerland is party to a number of bilateral and multilateral treaties governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.  The Lugano Convention, a multilateral treaty tying Switzerland to European legal conventions, entered into force in 2011 (replacing an older legal framework by the same name).  A set of bilateral treaties is also in place to handle judgments of specific foreign courts.  While no such agreement is in place between the United States and Switzerland, Switzerland operates under the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under specific circumstances.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The major laws governing foreign investment in Switzerland are the Swiss Code of Obligations, the Lex Friedrich/Koller, Switzerland’s Securities Law, the Cartel Law and the Financial Market Infrastructure Act.  There is no specific screening of foreign investment beyond a normal anti-trust review.  The Federal Assembly instructed the Federal Council to prepare a foreign investment screening mechanism in March 2020, a process expected to take two years.  There are few sectoral or geographic incentives or restrictions; exceptions are described below in the section on performance requirements and incentives.

Some former public monopolies retain their historical market dominance despite partial or full privatization.  Foreign investors sometimes find it difficult to enter these markets due to high entry costs and the relatively small size and linguistic divisions of the Swiss market (e.g., certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurances and banking services, and the trade in salt).

There is no pronounced interference in the court system that should affect foreign investors.

Useful websites:

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Swiss Competition Commission  and the Swiss Takeover Board  review competition-related concerns.  In 2017, the Swiss Takeover Board concluded that Chinese conglomerate HNA had failed to list the HNA co-founders correctly as beneficial owners in its acquisition prospectus of Swiss airline caterer gategroup Holding AG and tasked the Swiss financial regulator and stock exchange with investigating potential breaches of Swiss financial regulations.  HNA was found guilty and was sentenced to pay a financial penalty of CHF 50,000 (USD 50,000).  The investigation into HNA’s shareholdings in Switzerland also revealed deficient statements on beneficial ownership in Swiss-based airport duty free operator Dufry; in September 2019, Switzerland’s Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) said it would file a criminal complaint in the matter.

The Swiss agricultural sector remains protected and heavily subsidized, with direct subsidy payments comprising two-thirds of an average farm’s profits and one of the lowest levels of productivity among OECD members.  However, this is starting to change: newly negotiated trade agreements, including between the European Free Trade Association (of which Switzerland is a member) and Mercosur, contain provisions which would open Swiss markets to new levels of agricultural imports.

The OECD ranks Switzerland’s educational, healthcare, and agriculture costs and subsidies as relatively high when compared to output.

Expropriation and Compensation

There are no known cases of expropriation within Switzerland.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Switzerland has been a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since June 1968, and a member of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law since June 1965.  Switzerland’s Federal Act on Private International Law (Art. 190 and 194) sets a minimum standard for the implementation of international arbitration awards in Switzerland.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Based on Switzerland’s membership in the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, local courts are entitled to enforce international arbitration awards.  According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Switzerland has never been a respondent party to an investment dispute in international arbitration.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Swiss courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards in the framework of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards .  Post has no knowledge of any investor disputes in Switzerland involving U.S. persons within the last 10 years.

As business associations organized at the cantonal level, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Neuchâtel, and Zurich have established the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution.  This entity offers dispute resolution based on Swiss Rules of International Arbitration and Swiss Rules of Commercial Mediation.  According to the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution, 100 cases were submitted in 2015 (latest available data); 89 of these cases involved foreign parties.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Switzerland’s bankruptcy law does not criminalize bankruptcy.  Under the bankruptcy law, the same rights and obligations apply to foreign and Swiss contract holders.

Swiss authorities provide information about Swiss residents and companies regarding debts registered with the debt collection register.

The World Bank’s 2020 “Doing Business” survey ranks Switzerland 49th out of 190 countries in resolving insolvency.  The average time to close a business in Switzerland is three years (compared to 1.7 years average across the OECD), with an average of 46.7 cents on the dollar recovered by claimants from insolvent firms (compared to 70.2 cents OECD average).

The Swiss Federal Statute on Private International Law (PILS, Art. 166-175, in force since January 1, 1989) governs Swiss recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings, including bankruptcies, foreign composition, and arrangements.  Swiss law requires reciprocity for recognition of foreign insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Many of Switzerland’s cantons make significant use of financial incentives to attract investment to their jurisdictions.  Some of the more forward-leaning cantons have in the past waived taxes for new firms for up to ten years.  However, after criticism by the OECD and European Union, the Federal Council proposed tax reform measures that became known as “Tax Reform and AHV Financing” (TRAF), which was approved by the Swiss parliament in September 2018 and was accepted by 64.4 percent of Swiss voters in a May 2019 popular vote.

TRAF entered into force on January 1, 2020, and obliged Swiss cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies, while allowing cantons to continue to set their own cantonal rates and offer incentives for corporate investment through deductions and preferential tax treatment for certain types of income, such as patents, or expenses, such as research and development.  Overall cantonal tax rates are expected to decrease under TRAF, but observers note that tax-friendly cantons such as Zug will likely remain competitive for foreign investment by continuing to offer aggressive incentives.  In Zurich, which is sometimes used as a reference point for corporate location tax calculations within Switzerland, the combined effective corporate tax rate was expected to fall to 19.7 percent in 2020, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.  This includes municipal, cantonal, and federal tax.

The new corporate tax rules aim to create an internationally compliant, competitive tax system for companies while strengthening the AHV (Swiss pension scheme) by generating additional receipts.  The TRAF tax reform is intended to safeguard the appeal and competitiveness of Switzerland as a business location, and to secure jobs and tax receipts in the medium to longer term.

Individual income tax rates also vary widely across the 26 cantons.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Switzerland’s free ports remain an important hub particularly for art works and collectibles from all over the world.  The country has taken steps in recent years to strengthen anti-money laundering measures and minimize the risks of abuse in free ports, to ensure that processes are in line with international standards.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

There are no “forced localization” laws designed to require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology (e.g. data storage within Switzerland).  In a June 2017 court decision regarding a February 2014 Federal Council decision to exclude a foreign competitor from bidding on services related to the government’s critical infrastructure, the court ruled in favor of the Swiss state-owned enterprise involved in the bid.  U.S. companies have to date not voiced concerns.

Switzerland follows strict privacy laws and certain data may not be collected in Switzerland, as it is deemed personal and “worthy of protection.”  The collection of certain data may need to be registered at the office of the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner.  Some foreign companies have located data centers in Switzerland due to the country’s strict privacy rules and neutrality.  In April 2018, FINMA published an outsourcing circular clarifying regulations for data storage for the banking and insurance sector at: https://www.finma.ch/en/documentation/circulars/ 

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Physical property rights are recognized and enforced within Switzerland, which currently ranks 18th out of 190 countries in the ease of transferring and registering property, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020.

Intellectual Property Rights

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO’s) World Intellectual Property Indicators, in 2018 Switzerland ranked 8th globally in filing patents, 11th in industrial designs, and 14th in trademarks, which reflects Switzerland’s overall strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR).

In 2020, Switzerland was removed from USTR’s Special 301 Watch List for revisions to its Copyright Act that came into force on April 1, 2020.  The revisions are intended to address specific difficulties in Switzerland’s system of online copyright protection, particularly regarding online infringement.  This is an important step after many years of engagement, and the United States will carefully monitor the implementation, interpretation, and effectiveness of the newly enacted legislation, as well as continue to engage with the Swiss government on these and other IP issues.

Federal customs authorities in Switzerland have the authority to seize counterfeit goods, upon request from the IPR holder or from related interest groups (e.g. professional associations).  Goods can be seized and held for 10 days if there is reasonable suspicion that they are counterfeit.  Provisional measures can also be obtained from a Swiss court to ensure evidence is not destroyed.  If the destruction of goods is requested by an IPR holder, the owner of the goods can dispute that claim in writing within 10 days.  In 2019, Swiss customs conducted 2,906 interventions to seize counterfeit commercial goods, up 73 percent from the number of cases in 2018.  The number of items seized rose from 14,388 in 2018 to 22,324 in 2019, most of which were counterfeit bags and watches.  In 2019, a total of 9,012 consignments of unauthorized pharmaceuticals were seized, the large majority of which were unauthorized erectile dysfunction medications from India and Eastern Europe.

Detailed information is available on Swiss Customs website:

https://www.ezv.admin.ch/dam/ezv/en/dokumente/stab/2020-fakten-und-zahlen.pdf.download.pdf/FaktenZahlenEZV_2020_WEB_en.pdf

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at https://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

Resources for Rights Holders

Theodore Fisher, Economic/Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy in Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3003 Bern, Switzerland
+41 31 357 7011
Business-bern@state.gov

Country / Economy resources

Swiss American Chamber of Commerce
Talacker 41
8001 Zurich
+41 43 443 72 00
info@amcham.ch

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Swiss government’s attitude toward foreign portfolio investment and market structures is positive, resulting in high global rankings by many indices.

The SIX Swiss stock exchange based in Zurich is one of the top stock markets worldwide based on market capitalization.

Money and Banking System

Switzerland is home to a sophisticated banking system that provides a high degree of service to both foreign and domestic entities.  Switzerland also has an effective regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investment.  The Swiss Bankers Association (SBA), a trade association of almost 300 member financial institutions, estimated that Switzerland’s banking sector managed assets amounting to approximately USD 7 trillion in 2018, almost half of which come from abroad.  The largest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have total assets of approximately USD 1 trillion and USD 800 million, respectively, while Raiffeisen Switzerland holds about USD 230 billion and Zurich Cantonal Bank holds roughly USD 170 billion.  Switzerland also maintains an independent central bank – the Swiss National Bank (SNB).

U.S. citizens who are resident in Switzerland may face difficulties in opening bank accounts at smaller Swiss banks as a result of the administrative costs of complying with additional regulatory and administrative procedures required for U.S. related person accounts under accepted disclosure rules.

The Swiss government created a blockchain task force in January 2018 to foster cooperation between the traditional banking sector and the nascent industry and to discuss potential legal and regulatory reforms to attract blockchain technologies while maintaining anti-money laundering controls.  In December 2018, the Swiss government endorsed a report on the legal framework for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) in the financial sector, with the goal of creating favorable conditions for Switzerland to evolve as a leading location for fintech and DLT companies.  In March 2019, the Swiss government-initiated consultations on adapting federal legislation to recent developments in DLT, and following these consultations sent a draft law to parliament in November 2019.  The law will be discussed by parliament over the course of 2020.

Several associations provide information about Swiss banks that offer services to U.S. clients.  For more information, see the following page at the U.S. Embassy Bern website:

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

In January 2015 the Swiss National Bank (SNB) abandoned the Swiss franc’s euro peg (CHF 1.20 / EUR).  In the wake of the SNB’s announcement, the franc increased over 30 percent in value against the euro.  Perceived as a “safe haven” currency, the franc often strengthens during times of economic downturn or crisis.  As of May 2020, the franc traded at just over CHF 1.05 / EUR, and just over CHF 0.97 / USD.

Since 2015, the SNB has attempted to prevent further strengthening of the Swiss franc by instituting a negative interest rate for commercial bank deposits at the SNB, currently -0.75 percent, while continuing an expansionary monetary policy through intervention in the foreign currency market.  With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020, the SNB assessed that the Swiss franc was “even more highly valued,” as compared to a previous assessment of “highly valued.”  The SNB announced it would implement loose monetary policies and stronger foreign currency interventions to stabilize the situation.  The strength of the franc lowers effective prices of imports to Switzerland, but also harms Swiss competitiveness as an export-oriented economy.

Remittance Policies

There are currently no restrictions on converting, repatriating, or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of capital, earnings, loan repayments, lease payments, royalties) into a freely usable currency at the legal market clearing rate.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Switzerland does not have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Swiss Confederation is the largest or sole shareholder in Switzerland’s five state-owned enterprises (SOEs), active in the areas of ground transportation (SBB), information and communication (Swiss Post, Swisscom), defense (RUAG, which was divided into two companies in January – see below), and aviation / air traffic control (Skyguide).  These companies are typically responsible for “public function mandates,” but may also cover commercial activities (e.g., Swisscom in the area of telecommunications).

SOEs typically have commercial relationships with private industry.  Private sector competitors can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations.  Additional publicly owned enterprises are controlled by the cantons in the areas of energy, water supply, and a number of subsectors.  SOEs and canton-owned companies may benefit from exclusive rights and privileges (some of which are listed in Table A 3.2 of the WTO Trade Policy Review – https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp455_e.htm ).

Switzerland is a party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA).  Some areas are partly or fully exempted from the GPA, such as the management of drinking water, energy, transportation, telecommunications, and defense.  Private companies may encounter difficulties gaining business in these exempted sectors.

Privatization Program

In the aftermath of a 2016 cyberattack, the Federal Council reviewed RUAG’s structure in light of cybersecurity concerns for the Swiss military, and decided in June 2018 to split the company. Swiss defense and aerospace company RUAG was split into two holding companies as of January 1, 2020.  One, MRO Switzerland, will remain state-owned and provide essential technology and systems support to the Swiss military.  The other, RUAG International, includes non-armaments aviation and aerospace businesses, and will be fully privatized in the medium term, according to the Swiss government.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Swiss Confederation and Swiss companies are generally aware of the importance of pursuing due diligence to responsible business conduct (RBC) and demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR).  In response to criticism from civil society about the business practices of Swiss companies abroad, the Swiss government commissioned a series of reports on the government’s role in ensuring CSR, particularly in the commodities sector, and in December 2016 published a national action plan in conjunction with its commitments under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/media-releases.msg-id-64884.html ).  In June 2017, the Swiss government concluded that Switzerland promotes voluntary principles, such as the upholding of human rights standards, and also supports including mandatory CSR market incentives, such as minimum conditions for the protection of workers abroad, in forthcoming legislation.  In January 2020, the Swiss government approved the CSR Action Plan 2020-2023, which covers sixteen measures – particularly promoting sustainability reporting and due diligence by companies, stakeholder dialogue, and the alignment of private section CSR instruments with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The latest updates on corporate social responsibility are available on https://www.seco.admin.ch/seco/en/home/Aussenwirtschaftspolitik_Wirtschaftliche_Zusammenarbeit/Wirtschaftsbeziehungen/Gesellschaftliche_Verantwortung_der_Unternehmen.html 

There is ongoing political debate over whether Swiss courts should exercise jurisdiction over allegations of human rights and environmental abuses by Swiss companies abroad.  In March 2019, the upper house of the Swiss parliament (the Council of States) voted narrowly to reject talks on a proposal on responsible business put forward by the lower house (the National Council).  The National Council reaffirmed its proposal in March 2020, with some concessions. A planned vote by the Council of States was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but was expected later in 2020.  The debate may culminate in an eventual referendum, known as the “Responsible Business Initiative” (RBI), in which Swiss citizens will decide whether to adopt or reject a partial revision of the Swiss Constitution that aims to introduce a specific provision on responsible business (https://www.bk.admin.ch/ch/f/pore/vi/vis462t.html ).

Switzerland ranked 1st out of 180 countries in the 2018 Yale University-based Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

The Swiss government implements the OECD Due Diligence Guide for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict and High-Risk Areas.  Switzerland is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and supports the Better Gold Initiative, which promotes responsible gold mining in Peru, with plans to expand to Bolivia and Colombia.  Switzerland’s Point of Contact for the OECD Guidelines at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) may be contacted at: https://mneguidelines.oecd.org/ncps/switzerland.htm .

Information about the Swiss Better Gold Association: https://www.swissbettergold.ch.

Switzerland has signed a number of nonbinding agreements outlining best practices for corporations, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers.

9. Corruption

Swiss law provides for criminal penalties, including imprisonment for up to five years, for official corruption, and the government generally implements these laws effectively.  Switzerland is ranked 4th of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, reflecting low perceptions of corruption in society.  Under Swiss law, officials are not to accept anything that would “challenge their independence and capacity to act.”  The bribery of public officials is governed by the Swiss Criminal Code (Art. 322), while the bribery of private individuals is governed by the Federal Law Against Unfair Competition.  The law defines as granting an “undue advantage” either in exchange for a specific act, or in some cases for future behavior not related to a specific act.  Some officials may receive small gifts valued at no more than CHF 200 or CHF 300 for an entire year, which are not seen as “undue.” However, officials in some fields, such as financial regulators, may receive no advantages at all.  Transparency International has recommended that at the federal level a maximum sum should be set.

Investigating and prosecuting government corruption is a federal responsibility.  A majority of cantons requires members of cantonal parliaments to disclose their interests.  A joint working group comprising representatives of various federal government agencies works under the leadership of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to combat corruption.  Some multinational companies have set up internal hotlines to enable staff to report problems anonymously.

In 2009, Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  The Swiss government experts believe this ratification did not result in significant domestic changes, since passive and active corruption of public servants was already considered a crime under the Swiss Criminal Code.

A review by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in 2017 recommended the adoption of a code of ethics/conduct, together with awareness-raising measures, for members of the federal parliament, judges, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to avoid conflict of interests.  These measures needed to be accompanied by a reinforced monitoring of members of parliament’s compliance with their obligations.  In March 2018, the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions recommended that Switzerland adopt an appropriate legal framework to protect private sector whistleblowers from discrimination and disciplinary action, to ensure that sanctions imposed for foreign bribery against natural and legal persons are effective, proportionate, and dissuasive, and to ensure broader and more systematic publication of concluded foreign bribery cases.  The OECD Working Group positively highlighted Switzerland’s proactive policy on seizure and confiscation, its active involvement in mutual legal assistance, and its role as a promoter of cooperation in field of foreign bribery.  Regarding detection, the OECD Working Group commended the key role played by the Swiss Financial Intelligence Unit (MROS) in detecting foreign bribery.

A number of Swiss federal administrative authorities are involved in combating bribery.  The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) deals with issues relating to the OECD Convention.  The Federal Office of Justice deals with those relating to the Council of Europe Convention, while the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (MFA) deals with the UN Convention.  The power to prosecute and judge corruption offenses is shared between the relevant Swiss canton and the Swiss federal government.  For the federal government, the competent authorities are the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Criminal Court, and the Federal Police.  In the cantons, the relevant actors are the cantonal judicial authorities and the cantonal police forces.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

In 2001, Switzerland signed the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption.  In 1997, Switzerland signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which entered into force in 2000.  Switzerland signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003.  Switzerland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2009.

In order to implement the Council of Europe convention, the Swiss parliament amended the Penal Code to make bribery of foreign public officials a federal offense (Title Nineteen “Bribery”); these amendments entered into force in 2000.  In accordance with the revised 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the Swiss parliament amended legislation on direct taxes of the Confederation, cantons, and townships to prohibit the tax deductibility of bribes; these amendments became effective on in 2001.

Switzerland maintains an effective legal and policy framework to combat domestic corruption.  U.S. firms investing in Switzerland have not raised with the Embassy any corruption concerns in recent years.

Resources to Report Corruption

Government Agency Contact:

Michel Huissoud
Director
Swiss Federal Audit Office
Monbijoustrasse 45
3003 Bern / Switzerland
Ph. +41 58 463 10 35
Messages can be submitted via https://www.bkms-system.ch/bkwebanon/report/clientInfo?cin=5efk11 

“Watchdog” Organization Contact:

Martin Hilti
Executive Director
Transparency International Switzerland
Schanzeneckstrasse 25
P.O. Box 8509
3001 Bern / Switzerland
Ph. +41 31 382 3550
E-Mail: info@transparency.ch

10. Political and Security Environment

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Switzerland. Protests do occur in Switzerland, but authorities monitor protest activities. Urban areas regularly experience demonstrations, mostly on global trade and political issues, and some occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy.  Protests held during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) occasionally draws protestors from several countries in Europe.  Historically, demonstrations have been peaceful, with protestors registering for police permits. Protestors have blocked traffic; spray-painted areas with graffiti, and on rare occasions, clashed with police. Political extremist or anarchist groups sometimes instigate civil unrest.  Right-wing activists have targeted refugees/asylum seekers/foreigners, while left-wing activists (who historically have demonstrated a greater propensity toward violence) usually target organizations involved with globalization, alleged fascism, and alleged police repression.  Swiss police have at their disposal tear gas and water cannons, which are rarely used.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Swiss labor force is highly educated and highly skilled.  The Swiss economy is capital intensive and geared toward high value-added products and services.  In 2019, 76.5 percent of the workforce was employed in services, 20.8 percent in manufacturing, and 2.6 percent in agriculture.  Full-time work compared to part-time work is more prevalent among foreign workers than among Swiss workers: 40 percent of the Swiss population works part-time, compared to 26 percent of the foreign working population.  Wages in Switzerland are among the highest in the world.  Switzerland continues to observe International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions.  Government regulations cover maximum work hours, minimum length of holidays, sick leave, compulsory military service, contract termination, and other requirements.  There is no federal minimum wage law.

Foreigners fill not only low-skilled, low-wage jobs, but also highly technical positions in the manufacturing and service industries.  Foreigners account for 31.7 percent of Switzerland’s labor force estimated at about 5 million people.  Many foreign nationals are long-time Swiss residents who have not applied for or been granted Swiss citizenship.  Foreign seasonal workers take many lower-wage jobs in agriculture.

On September 27, 2020, Swiss voters will decide on an initiative to limit immigration across European borders, which could negate the Swiss-EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement and carry potentially significant implications for the immigrant-dependent labor market.  This follows a similar February 2014 initiative to impose limits on immigration.  In the wake of the 2014 referendum, the government introduced a series of measures aimed at bringing into the labor market traditionally underemployed groups – women, older job seekers, refugees, and temporarily accepted asylum seekers.  In December 2016, parliament introduced a requirement that companies in sectors with more than 5 percent unemployment provide information on job openings to government-run employment centers.  These centers would provide employers with suitable candidates, which employers would be required to interview before filling a job.  However, registration at the employment centers would be open to cross-border commuters and EU nationals as well, thus blunting the effect of the legislation, which was implemented by the Federal Council as of July 2018.

Switzerland generally prohibits commerce on Sunday.  Swiss voters narrowly accepted a 2005 revision of the Swiss Federal labor law in order to provide flexible working hours, such as Sunday openings in major railway stations and airports.  Shopping hours outside of these locations remain mainly regulated by cantonal laws.  Employees in the retail sector and in restaurants and bars, in cooperation with other interests, have been successful in resisting the easing of federal and cantonal laws governing opening hours, but in recent years the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has loosened work restrictions on Sundays, for example by allowing a limited number of malls to be open on Sundays.

Trade union density – the percentage of the workforce represented by trade unions – is on the decline in Switzerland, according to OECD data.  From over 20 percent in 2000, trade union density had fallen to 14.9 percent by 2017, according to the OECD (latest data available).  Labor-management relations are generally constructive, with a general willingness on both sides to settle disputes by negotiation rather than labor action.  According to the Federal Office of Statistics, some 581 collective agreements were in force in Switzerland in March 2018 (latest data available).  Of these, approximately 64 percent concern the services sector, 34 percent the manufacturing sector, and 1 percent the agricultural sector; these are usually renewed without major difficulties.  Trade unions continue to promote a wider coverage of collective agreements for the Swiss labor force.  Although the number of workdays lost to strikes in Switzerland is among the lowest in the OECD, Swiss trade unions have encouraged workers to strike on several occasions in recent years.  In difficult economic times, employers may temporarily shift full-time employees to part-time by registering with cantonal authorities and justifying reductions as necessary to business activities.  This practice, known as Kurzarbeit (“short-time work”), allows for the government to make partial salary payments through the unemployment insurance fund.  Kurzarbeit became widespread with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis and the temporary shutdown of wide segments of the Swiss economy.  Officials announced on May 4, 2020 that a total of 1.91 million employees from 187,000 companies – or more than 37 percent of the total workforce – were on reduced working hours under the program.  Employees can reject the shift to part-time work, but risk dismissal.  Responsibility for establishing and enforcing rules for the Kurzarbeit program ultimately belongs to the Federal Council, the seven-member executive of the Swiss government.

A prohibition on strikes by Swiss public servants was generally repealed in 2000, although restrictions remain in place in a few cantons.  The Federal Council may now only restrict or prohibit the right to strike where it affects the security of the state, external relations, or the supply of vital goods to the country.

Switzerland’s average unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 under ILO Labor Force Survey methodology, while registered unemployment was 2.3 percent.  Cantons bordering EU countries experience higher unemployment rates than Switzerland as a whole.

Switzerland does not have a free trade agreement with the United States, but has requested that talks begin to explore an agreement.  Switzerland has no agreed bilateral labor standards with the United States.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC – formerly the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC) cannot provide support to projects in Switzerland due to the country’s high income status.  Switzerland is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); the country has not signed a political risk insurance agreement with any Western European country or the United States.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($ billion USD) 2018 $694 2018 $705 www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source** USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($ billion USD, stock positions)*** 2018 $566 2018 $278 https://www.bea.gov/data/intl-trade-investment/direct-investment-country-and-industry 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($billion USD, stock positions) 2018 $287 2018 $222 https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2018 151.0% 2018 151.0% https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 

Average exchange rate for 2019: 1 USD = 0.9938 CHF
Average exchange rate for 2018: 1 USD = 0.9938 CHF
* Source: Federal Office of Statistics 
** Source: Swiss National Bank
***Significant statistical discrepancies are due to methodological differences in measuring foreign direct investment.  Data most recently available.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (according to https://data.imf.org/?sk=40313609-F037-48C1-84B1-E1F1CE54D6D5&sId=1482186404325  )
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (2017) (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $1,354,535 100% Total Outward $1,494,721 100%
Luxembourg $386,225 29% United States $ 289,971 19%
Netherlands $347,712 28% Luxembourg $ 194,161 13%
United Kingdom $ 81,448 6% Netherlands $ 159,420 11%
Austria $ 77,163 6% Ireland $ 119,519 8%
United States $ 76,092 6% United Kingdom $ 79,526 4%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets (as of June 2018, according to IMF’s Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS))  
Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries $1,414,731 100% All Countries $738,683 100% All Countries $676,048 100%
United States $334,641 24% Luxembourg $204,628 26% United States $177,326 26%
Luxembourg $240,233 17% United States $157,315 20% United Kingdom $54,537 8%
France $90,353 6% Ireland $79,291 10% Netherlands $54,421 8%
United Kingdom $85,366 6% Cayman Islands $51,421 8% France $50,449 7%
Germany $82,254 6% Germany $39,201 4% Germany $43,053 6%

14. Contact for More Information

Theodore Fisher, Economic/Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy in Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3003 Bern
+41 31 357 7011

2020 Investment Climate Statements: Switzerland and Liechtenstein
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