Switzerland is one of the world's most important commodities trading hubs. The industry, which has been experiencing rapid growth since 2002, generated annual revenues of CHF 25 billion in 2017. Its beginnings in Switzerland date back to such 19th century pioneers as Henri Nestlé.
Switzerland is among the largest trading hubs for oil and petroleum, metals, minerals and agricultural products. It is the world market leader in sugar, cotton, oilseed and cereals trading. The Swiss commodities sector employs about 35,000 people and generates 3.8% of the country's GDP.
There are approximately 550 commodities-trading companies in all in Switzerland. Most of them are located in the regions of Geneva, Zug and Lugano. The main players in this sector are companies like Glencore, Trafigura, Mercuria, Gunvor and Vitol.
From 19th century pioneers to the rapid growth of the early 2000s
Switzerland's trading tradition goes back to the first half of the 19th century, when pioneers like Henri Nestlé, Salomon Volckart and André & Cie began trading in commodities. New companies such as the Société Générale de Surveillance in the early 20th century and Cargill and Alcoa from about 1950s turned Geneva into one of the most significant centres of international commodities trading. A qualified workforce, a high quality of life, a well-developed financial system and tax benefits for the sector contribute to Switzerland's attractiveness as a commodities trading centre.
The sector has posted spectacular growth since the early 2000s. Its net revenue rose from CHF 2 billion in 2002 to approximately CHF 25 billion in 2017.
The sector occasionally draws criticism with respect to transparency, money laundering and human rights, which is connected to the fact that some commodities come from politically unstable countries. This does not mean, however, that the commodities trade is not subject to any type regulation. A wide range of strict regulations govern various business activities in the sector. Furthermore, the Swiss government supports the sector's global reform efforts and is actively participating in efforts to improve sustainable production and fair trade in commodities.