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Swiss medicine sales to Russia hit 30-year high

Pharmaceutical exports in nominal terms increased by 40% since the Ukraine war began. However, export volume increased only slightly. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

Swiss exports of pharmaceuticals to Russia, which are not subject to sanctions, reached a 30-year record last year, buoyed by high prices.

Roche, Novartis and the other Swiss pharma companies brought in CHF2.1 billion ($2.3 billion) from the export of pharmaceuticals to Russia in 2022.

In 2021 the Swiss pharma industry sold drugs worth CHF1.5 billion to Russia. This means sales increased by 40% since Russia invaded Ukraine. This is based on an analysis by the Swiss News Agency Keystone-SDA of foreign trade data released by the Swiss customs office on Tuesday.

In contrast to sales, export volume of pharmaceutical products increased only slightly.

Due to pharmaceutical sales, total exports to Russia dipped by only around 6% compared with the previous year despite sanctions. As a comparison, German export revenues to Russia almost halved last year, according to the German statistical office.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, many companies have severely restricted trade relations with Russia. For humanitarian reasons, medicine is exempt from the list of goods subject to sanctions, and therefore may continue to be exported.

Switzerland in particular benefits from this regulation, as the pharmaceutical industry is by far its most important export sector.

In 2022 around half of export sales came from products from the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. The US and Germany are the most important destination for Swiss pharmaceutical exports. Russia is in 13th place with around 2% of total exports.

Record foreign trade

On Tuesday the Federal Office of Customs and Border Security reported that foreign trade reached a record level last year due in large part to inflation.

Exports rose by 7.2% to an all-time high of CHF278.6 billion but grew only 0.1% when adjusted for inflation.

Chemicals and pharmaceuticals represented the largest share of this with CHF3.7 billion. As in 2021, watches and jewellery were the most dynamic sectors, with double-digit growth of 11.4% and 14.8% respectively.

Swiss exports to Asia saw the largest boost, driven in large part by Japan. North America grew by 7.8% and Europe by 6.3%.

Imports rose by 16.8% but only by 0.7% when adjusted for inflation. Rising energy prices caused a twofold increase in purchases of energy sources, bringing them to CHF12.7 billion. In real terms, trade in energy products dropped by 1.4%. Almost half of the total import growth was attributed to France, Germany and Italy.

The year ended with a trade surplus of CHF43.5 billion, down from CHF58.5 billion in 2021.

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SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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