Commodities trading

Switzerland is one of the world's most important commodities trading hubs.  There are over 900 commodities trading companies in Switzerland. Most of them are based in Geneva, Zug and Lugano. In Switzerland, the sector can be traced back to pioneers such as Henri Nestlé who began trading in raw materials in the 19th century.

Containers at a loading bay.
It is estimated that over a third of global trade in crude oil is handled by traders based in Switzerland. © FDFA, Presence Switzerland

Switzerland is among the largest trading hubs for oil and petroleum, metals, minerals and agricultural products, with fuel the most important of these. Switzerland is a global market leader in sugar, cotton, oilseed, coffee and cereals trading. However, most of the goods never reach Switzerland, but are bought and sold beforehand by Swiss-based companies (merchanting activity).

There are 900 commodities trading companies Switzerland employing 10,000 people. Most of them are located in the regions of Geneva, Zug and Lugano. Major sector players include Vitol, Glencore, Gunvor, Cargill and Mercuria.

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 Volkart 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 1950 turned Geneva into one of the most significant centres of international commodities trading. Switzerland's appeal as a commodities trading hub is tied to its political and economic stability, skilled workforce and well-integrated financial system.

Since the early 2000s, commodities trading and merchanting in general have experienced rapid growth in Switzerland, increasing from CHF 2 billion in 2002 to over CHF 80 billion in 2022.

The sector sometimes attracts criticism regarding transparency, money laundering and human rights, given that certain commodities come from politically unstable countries. However, the sector's business activities are governed by an extensive set of rules and regulations. Swiss legislation lays down requirements for large companies regarding environmental issues, fair working conditions, respect for human rights and the prevention of corruption. Furthermore, Switzerland supports global reform efforts and is actively involved in work to improve sustainable production and fair trade, e.g. the Swiss Better Gold Initiative.