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Export controls

Switzerland controls the import, export, transit and brokerage of goods. It implements international rules designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the stockpiling of conventional weapons, and which serve to implement sanctions. Export controls in the area of war materiel also serve to fulfil international obligations and to safeguard foreign and security policy interests.

The underside of rifle cartridges.
Switzerland controls the import, export, transit and brokerage of goods, including war materiel. (© Keystone)

The following categories are subject to controls:

  • goods covered by sanctions
  • nuclear goods
  • goods with both civilian and military applications (dual-use)
  • armaments (specific military goods and war materiel)
  • goods that could be used for the development, manufacture or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (catch-all)

Licensing bodies are the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), for certain nuclear goods, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).

Export controls and sanctions

Safeguards, SFOE

The FDFA plays its statutory role in the licencing process and makes its expertise available. It is consulted on individual applications for export trade concerning the licensing of war materiel as well as goods subject to goods control legislation. After review, it submits its assessment to the SECO.

Together, the FDFA, the SECO and the other authorities involved ensure that Switzerland fulfils its international obligations and that export trade in the area of war materiel is consistent with foreign policy.

Control of war materiel

Export trade, i.e. export, transit, trade, brokerage of war materiel, or the transfer of intellectual property require an individual licence from the SECO. The SECO decides on applications in agreement with the FDFA and, depending on the content, in cooperation with other departments.

Arms Control and Arms Control Policy, SECO) (de, fr, it).

The FDFA reviews on a case-by-case basis whether an export trade complies with international law, international obligations and the principles of Swiss foreign policy, and submits its assessment to the SECO once this risk analysis has been completed.

The FDFA's internal analysis is based on the legal authorisation criteria. Assessments take into account the following:

  • the maintenance of peace, international security and regional stability
  • the human rights situation in the country of destination
  • possible contradiction with the principles and goals of Swiss development cooperation 
  • risk of misuse of the materiel by the end recipient
  • risk that the exported weapons will be passed on to an undesirable end recipient

In addition to reviewing applications, the FDFA is also involved in multilateral processes, domestic policy matters and in drafting legislation. In this regard it works closely with the SECO.

Disarmament and non-proliferation

International obligations, SECO (de, fr, it)

War Materiel Act (WMA) and War Materiel Ordinance (WMO)

The legislation governing war materiel regulates the manufacture and transfer (import, export and transit) as well as the brokerage of and trade in war material.

By controlling the production and transfer of war materiel and the corresponding technology, Switzerland aims to fulfil its international obligations and uphold its foreign policy principles. At the same time, it aims to maintain an industrial capacity adapted to Swiss national defence needs.

War materiel includes weapons, weapons systems, ammunition, military military explosives, equipment specifically designed or modified for use in combat or for the conduct of combat, as well as components and assembly packages that cannot be used in the same form for civilian purposes.

War Materiel Act

War Materiel Ordinance

Control of nuclear goods, goods with both civilian and military applications (dual-use), specific military goods , and nationally controlled goods

A licence from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) is required for the import, export and transit of nuclear goods, goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes (dual-use goods), specific military goods and goods that are subject to national control under the Weapons Act or the Explosives Act; and from the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) for certain nuclear goods. The SECO submits certain cases to the export control group consisting of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) , the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS), the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications (DETEC) for decision. The Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) is also consulted.

Export controls of industrial products (dual-use) and specific military goods (licensing), SECO

The FDFA examines applications on a case-by-case basis and carries out a risk analysis based on the refusal criteria of the goods control legislation and submits its assessment to the SECO.

In addition to its role in assessing applications, the FDFA is also involved in multilateral processes, domestic policy matters and the drafting of legislation. In this regard it works closely with the SECO.

Disarmament and non-proliferation

Export Control Policy Dual-Use, SECO

Goods Control Act (GCA) and Goods Control Ordinance (GCO)

The legislation governing goods control regulates the import, export, transit and brokerage of nuclear goods, goods with both civilian and military applications (e.g. chemicals and machine tools) and specific military goods (e.g. military training aircraft and military simulators).

The purpose of the goods control legislation is in particular to prevent:

  • that the above-mentioned goods are used for the development, manufacture or use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons (NBC weapons),
  • that they could be used for the development, manufacture or use of delivery systems for the use of NBC weapons,
  • or that they contribute to the conventional armament of a State whose behaviour endangers regional or global security.

Swiss legislation also provides for an additional ground for refusal in the Ordinance on the Export and Brokerage of Goods for Internet and Mobile Communication Surveillanceif there is reason to believe that the goods may be used by the end recipient for purposes of repression.

On the one hand, the goods control legislation meets the requirements of the following regimes:

  • Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
  • Safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

On the other hand, the goods control legislation incorporates into national law the control measures (lists of goods) agreed within the framework of the four export control regimes.

Goods Control Act

Goods Control Ordinance

Ordinance of 25 November 2020 on the Export and Brokerage of Goods for Internet and Mobile Communication Surveillance (de, fr, it)

Last update 26.01.2022