The different risks associated with import-export

Import-Export comprises a certain number of risks which SMEs need to bear in mind. The most significant of these concern exports. 

SMEs need to pay attention to risks associated with both importation and exportation. Swiss Export Risk Insurance covers political, del credere and transfer risks, and cases of force majeure. Import risks concern procedures to be completed before, during and after goods go through customs. It is possible to limit these risks by using forwarding agents. 

Export risks

Most export risks are listed on the website of Swiss Export Risk Insurance (SERV).

Other risks not covered by SERV should be added. Here is a summary of the main risks incurred by Swiss exporting companies:

  • Political risks. The following are regarded as political risks: all extraordinary state measures and political events occurring overseas such as war, revolution, annexation of territory, civil riot, embargo, nationalization, etc. Such situations can in particular bring about an inability to pay on the part of the debtor as well as the loss, seizure or deterioration of goods.
  • Risk of transfer. Risks of transfer concerns measures taken by a government or a central bank on the foreign exchange market rendering the debtor unable to buy currencies and therefore proceed with payment for goods (for example, debt reduction programs or debt rescheduling measures).
  • Del credere risk. The del credere risk (or commercial risk) consists of the insolvency or refusal to pay of the debtor or its guarantor. This can result in a cash flow problem for the exporting company, subsequently preventing it from accepting new orders in the absence of the necessary manufacturing resources.
  • Cases of force majeure. Cases of force majeure are unforeseen events (natural disaster, war, etc.) preventing delivery of goods or requiring execution thereof.
  • Foreign exchange risk. The foreign exchange risk is associated with variations in the rate of the Swiss franc compared to the currency of invoicing of the export operation. The higher the rate of the franc, the lower the margins on export in foreign currencies, and vice versa.
  • Other risks. There are many other risks that might arise during exporting, such as risks of fire, transport-related risks, etc.

Political, transfer and del credere risks along with cases of force majeure can be covered by SERV. Other risks need to be covered by private insurance.

Import risks

Import risks are mainly associated with procedures to be completed before, during and after goods go through customs. Swiss importing companies therefore need to pay attention to several factors:

  • Customs duties. Companies are advised to find out in advance about the duties payable when importing goods into Switzerland. To do so, the simplest measure is to make inquiries with the seller regarding the customs tariff number applicable to the product, then consult the Swiss online customs tariff (Tares) to find out the total amount of customs duties, VAT and any other taxes levied by the Swiss customs authorities. Tares also determines whether the goods are subject to an import license. Companies are also advised to make inquiries about the refund and deduction of foreign VAT.
  • Legislation. Importers must remain up-to-date with the legal rules applicable to imported goods, which vary from one product to another (law on foodstuffs, veterinary or plant safety rules, etc.).
  • Counterfeit goods. On importing, it is important to beware of counterfeit goods, the trading of which is prohibited in Switzerland. This risk is particularly present when buying products on the internet.
  • Type of importing. Companies must clearly indicate to the forwarding agent what type of importing they want to carry out: permanent or temporary importing, transit or other.
  • Checking invoices. Companies are advised to carefully check invoices received after importing operations. Appeals may be lodged against customs receipts for 60 days only with the Swiss Federal Customs Administration (FCA).

To avoid problems when importing goods into Switzerland, companies can contact professionals in the sector such as forwarding agents, for example. Forwarding agents are usually aware of all the formalities to be completed. Information can also be obtained from the Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), Switzerland Global Enterprise or the FCA.


Last modification 27.02.2020

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