Agroscope, FiBL

How Vulnerable is Switzerland in terms of Food Imports?

Owing to its low degree of self-sufficiency, Switzerland is highly dependent on food imports. Because of this, it is important to assess its vulnerability in terms of supply security of these key imported goods.

Geopolitical crises such as wars or pandemics as well as environmental crises such as climate change put the global food supply increasingly at risk. A multifactorial and standardised Import Vulnerability Index (IVI) was developed to identify potential risks to food imports into Switzerland.

Various factors influence the Import Vulnerability Index

Based on an analysis of the literature, individual factors influencing the vulnerability of food imports were first selected. For this, readily available data sources were preferred. The IVI encompasses (i) an Exporter Vulnerability Index (EVI) composed of four exporter-specific factors and (ii) a Product Vulnerability Index (PVI) composed of three product-specific factors (Fig. 1).

Fig.1: Conceptual framework of the Import Vulnerability Index.

To quantify the vulnerability of Swiss food imports, the individual factors were linked with the trade flows. The IVI as well as the EVI and PVI subindices were calculated by way of example on an annual basis for the period 2014–2019. From the results, the following conclusions can be drawn for this period:

A majority of Swiss foods were imported from neighbouring countries

Between 2014 and 2019, the main countries of origin of food imported into Switzerland such as Germany, France and Italy had a low EVI. This suggests that Switzerland’s main trading partners have a low degree of vulnerability in terms of governance, climate risks, export capacity and technological development.

Imports not at risk for most products

High vulnerability values were only identified for oilseeds and mill products. With these products, the focus on a small number of exporting countries dominated the PVI. As expected, products that cannot be produced in Switzerland, such as coffee and exotic fruits, report a high import dependency. High import price volatility was observed for meat, which is imported under auctioned tariff-rate quotas.

Almost no fluctuations in the vulnerability of food imports

From 2014 to 2019, Switzerland’s IVI displayed no major fluctuations or trends (Fig. 2). Exporter-specific factors played a more important role than product-specific factors. Surprisingly, although climate change is having an increasingly negative impact on global agricultural production, the value of the ‘climate risks’ factor remained almost constant between 2014 and 2019.

Fig. 2: Trends in the Import Vulnerability Index and its individual factors across all products from 2014 to 2019.


  • Monitoring tools such as the IVI offer important retrospective findings on the potential risks to food imports. 
  • Vulnerability of Swiss food imports for the period 2014 to 2019 can be assessed as low. A majority of the imports stemmed from reliable countries of origin.
  • For some products such as oilseeds and mill products, the number of countries of origin was relatively low. The vulnerability of these products could be reduced through greater diversification of the countries of origin.
  • The proposed concept of the IVI can be further extended e.g. through the inclusion of the imported means of production required for food production, such as mineral fertilisers and energy.
  • However, in order to reflect current developments more accurately, the monitoring of food imports should be based on real-time data, so that decision-makers and stakeholders along the value chain can react in a timely manner. 
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