The path to a comprehensive Swiss foreign trade statistics fashioned according to uniform criteria was long and ardent. Those who are interested in learning more about the various aspects and milestones of the continuing evolutionary process should read the two articles by Hermann Bodenmann published in the “Journal of Swiss Statistics and Economy” (“Zeitschrift für schweizerische Statistik und Volkswirtschaft” / “Journal de statistique et Revue économique suisse”), and the longer contribution by Alfred Bosshardt and Alfred Nydegger in the anniversary edition of the same publication. The third chapter of the Introduction to the Economy and Social Statistics of Switzerland, published in 1990 by Peter Bohley and Armin Jans, provides information on the conceptual, organizational, and legal changes in the foreign trade statistics over the past 100 years. A historical-statistical monograph of Swiss foreign trade does not yet exist, even though the impact of foreign trade on the growth of the Swiss economy in the 19th and 20th centuries has not been adequately examined to date.
Commodities Statistics for the Years 1851–1913
Initial records of customs operations results date back to the 1840s and early 1850s. Historian Béatrice Veyrassat recently performed a critical review of those little-known statistics. Since Veyrassat’s tables are commonly available, we did not deem it necessary to reprint them in the table section of this chapter.
For the period of 1851–1884, we have records of the annual weights of imported and exported goods. For cattle trade and watch exports, however, the records only indicate numbers and not weight, and lumber trade was recorded by value instead of quantity. A more serious omission, from a historical perspective, is that the officials neglected to subtract the weight of packing materials (tare weight) when compiling trade record figures. Pier Mattia Ferrari and Michael Bernegger computed the net weight for some of the goods included in the export statistics by applying a constant packing coefficient for the entire time period, which however varied substantially dependent on the goods, and which in some cases was apparently assumed to be zero. When attempting to reconstruct Swiss foreign trade of metals, Jutta Schwarz was also forced to make the numbers from her sources for the years 1850–1884 compatible with those of the export statistics for the period of 1885–1914. Hans Brugger and Thomas Steiger provide long-term series for dairy foreign trade for 1851–1913. Finally, for livestock trades there was no need for further processing of foreign trade statistical data, since after 1884, custom officials went on recording livestock by number instead of weight. We are therefore in a position to present volume statistics for a substantial number of products from 1851 to 1959.
Commodities Statistics for the Years 1892–1959
A October 10, 1884 decree relating to the “Statistics of Swiss trade of goods with foreign countries” caused a quantum improvement of Swiss foreign trade statistics because it required the recording of volume and value of goods crossing the border, and because volume data was now recorded as net weight. In spite of this, foreign trade statistics remained less than perfect even in the second half of the 1880s and in the beginning of the 1890s. In 1885, the first year of the new era, custom officials appear to have committed a few major errors in the determination of foreign trade volume. Compared to the data quality of this “trial year” (Bodenmann 1935), foreign trade of the years 1886–1891 was recorded much more accurately. It must be considered, though, that declarations by producing and consuming countries weren’t declared officially mandatory until the year 1892. Only then did it become possible to determine to what degree countries exporting goods to, and importing goods from Switzerland were the actual producing and consuming countries. When custom officials reviewed prior-year foreign trade statistics on this matter, they found that for 1890 and 1891 excessive trade volume figures had been recorded particularly for France and Belgium, whereas trade volume with England and overseas countries had been assessed too low (see the introduction to the 1901 annual report supplement). This circumstance caused us to begin using the goods and foreign trade partner statistics only with the year 1892. We thus pay homage to Bodenmann’s firm assessment that 1891 represented “the end of the first period of Swiss foreign trade statistics”.
The year 1906 again saw various changes to the Swiss foreign trade statistics. The commodities list of goods, which had already undergone a total revision in the year 1892, was significantly revised and expanded, and the country register was also expanded by several items. However, we are of the opinion that the comparability between the values of the prior period and those of the succeeding years was not significantly impacted by these changes.
Commodities Statistics for the Years 1960–1987/92
Nevertheless, it is not possible to combine either the goods nor the foreign trade partner statistics into one table for 1982 to the present. For the goods statistics, we need to firmly differentiate between the periods of 1892–1959 and 1960–1987. The year-end 1959/60 was a major turning point because the revised customs tariffs that took effect on January 1, 1960, covering trade to and from Switzerland, also brought the use of a new goods classification nomenclature. This meant that most of the goods and groups of goods listed in the customs administration’s annual reports for 1960–1987 did not consist of the same items as in prior decades. It is equally impossible to compare trade statistical data relating to movement of goods for the periods 1960–1987 and 1988–1992, because, starting January 1, 1988, Switzerland became bound by the international agreement for the harmonious system of naming and coding of goods, aimed at simplifying the formality in trade. Since this new classification system was only eight years old at the time of completion of this publication, we decided to terminate our import/export tables for major goods with the year 1987.
While we were able to present both foreign trade value and volume for the period of 1892–1959, thanks to the Federal Customs Administration’s detailed summaries, an attempt at fully reconstructing trade volume for the 1960s, 70s, and 80s remained fruitless, since after 1960 the summarizing annual foreign trade reports, while still containing volume weights for all imported goods, contain volume weights for only some of the exported goods. For this reason, we refrained from extending export volume statistics past the year 1959. An exception is the machine industry where it seemed appropriate to provide a separate table demonstrating the course of export volumes between 1960 and 1987.
An annoying break occurs between 1960 and 1966 in several series. This is due to yet another redefinition, towards the end of the 1960s, of some aggregate compilations of items in the list of goods. In response to our request, Mr. H. Baumann of the Federal Customs Executive Office (“Eidgenössische Oberzolldirektion” / “Direction générale des douanes”) was nice enough to construct homogenous series for certain goods by compiling individual items, listed in the original foreign trade statistics volumes for the years 1960–1966, into aggregates using the classification schemes that have been in effect since 1967.
Since 1960, the annual publication of the Federal Customs Executive Office has contained tables showing the value and volume of type and use of a significant number of imported goods groups. For the years 1970–1987, the Federal Customs Administration recently re-estimated foreign trade traffic categorized in the same manner, included exports, and used the January 1, 1988 classification system as a basis. This estimate has been included in this publication.
Foreign Trade Partner Statistics for the Years 1892–1992
By far the most important change in the foreign trade partner statistics occurred between 1919 and 1920. The end of World War I and the decrees determined by the winning parties at the peace conference of Versailles taking effect had such an impact on the political boundaries of many countries – consider the crash of the Habsburg dual monarchy, the dissolution of the Ottoman empire, the re-establishment of Poland on territory previously claimed by Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, and the return of the Alsace under French sovereignty – that we were forced to treat this globally significant event as a clear dividing line in our tables. This, however, does not make trade volume and value comparisons for the years before and after World War I inherently unacceptable. After all, the political boundaries of countries such as Sweden, Portugal, and Australia were not affected by the events of the years 1914–1919. In this context it should also be noted that the territorial outline of Switzerland has remained unchanged for almost 200 years, a global curiosity much appreciated by statisticians interested in long-term series.
For the period 1920–1992, we are able to provide unbroken foreign trade partner statistical series. We do not ignore the fact that the various manifestations of fascist expansion and the eventual victory of the Allies over the Axis powers had negative effects on the continuity of trade statistics. However, the resulting border changes fall “within the acceptable range”, i. e. they were more moderate than those after the end of World War I. In addition, it should be remembered that more than a few nations were faced with developments that resulted in territorial changes and thus had an impact on Swiss foreign trade statistics. The majority of these changes were related to the decolonialization of the Third World.
The sequence in which individual nations are listed in our tables reflects to a certain degree our efforts to extend comparability over time to those parts of the world where territorial splintering or – less commonly – consolidation gave a new face to political maps. For the same reason, in addition to summary totals by continent, we provide separate values for smaller geographical regions – parts of continents and groups of nations – such as Scandinavia, the western part of South America, southern Africa, and the Far East. We admit that this resulted in some groupings that are debatable from a geographical point of view. Our version of “Southern Europe” includes the Asian part of Turkey but not Italy which instead forms “Neighboring Countries” with France, Germany, and Austria. Since Swiss foreign trade statistics do not differentiate between Finland and the Baltic nations in the early 1920s, and since the Faroese Islands and Greenland were assigned to Denmark until recently, our use of the term “Scandinavia” is broad and liberal. We consider Mexico to be part of the central American subcontinent, a common assumption in the 19th century, but since 1906 no longer representing the view of the Federal Customs Administration. “Portuguese Africa” describes the totality of all Portuguese holdings on the African continent including the Cape Verdians (but exclusive of the Azores and Madeira), i. e. for a region of long-standing political but not geographical contiguity. And a last example: it is dubious to assign Afghanistan to the Near East, but since the Swiss foreign trade statistics listed that nation only in conjunction with Kuwait, Irak, and Iran until 1933, we could not assign it to the “Middle East” group.
Commodities Statistics According to Major Countries of Origin and Destination for Selected Years
The last part of this chapter is dedicated to the development of commodities traffic by nation. For selected years we determined the major countries of origin and destination for a number of import and export goods, based on three different sources: first, the original volumes of the foreign trade statistics for the years 1892–1987, which represent a dual source by providing, until the year 1938, data on the major countries of origins and destination in addition to the actual detail figures on goods aggregates; second, the summarized annual reports of the Federal Customs Department for the years 1938–1992; and third, the volumes 1930–1958 of the Statistical Yearbook of Switzerland. We primarily considered goods whose value played a significant role in the foreign trade statistics. However, since the structural composition of Swiss foreign trade, and with it the nomenclature of goods, has changed significantly in the past 100 years, it was only possible to reconstruct the distribution of imports and exports by countries of origin and destination for the entire period of 1892–1992 for very few products, such as coffee and cheese. Decisions which goods and years to run a detailed analysis of Swiss foreign trade statistics on depended on the availability of sources and the amount of time required to perform them. This contributed to the emphasis of our statistics, grouped by goods and countries, on the period of 1910–1959, an era which was also especially interesting to us due to the Great Depression and the two World Wars.
SOURCE: «External Trade» in Ritzmann/Siegenthaler, Historical Statistics of Switzerland, Zürich: Chronos, 1996, 655-660