BERN, Switzerland (AP) -- Swiss exports -- ranging from cheese and chocolate to watches and medicines -- dropped by almost a fifth at the start of the year, officials said Thursday.
The Federal Customs Administration said exports from the Alpine republic were down 17.3 percent to 14.4 billion Swiss francs ($12.6 billion) during the first two months of 2009 as the global economic downturn reduced demand from oversees markets.
Swiss companies are highly dependent on exports, most of which go to surrounding European Union countries. Switzerland itself is outside the 27-nation bloc but sells much of its produce to Germany, France and other EU members.
Demand for raw and semifinished materials was particularly hard hit with metal exports falling 34.7 percent, plastics by 27 percent and chemicals by 4.2 percent.
But iconic Swiss industries such as watchmaking also suffered as sales abroad dropped 22 percent in the first two months of the year.
Cheese and chocolate -- which only account for a small share of Switzerland's exports but have a firm place in foreigners' imagination of the country -- fell by almost 20 percent and 30 percent respectively.
Taking into account inflation, total exports dropped by 13.7 percent, the customs office said, noting that January and February 2009 also had one work day less than the same period last year because 2008 was a leap year.
After years of solid growth the country's economy is expected to shrink by 2.2 percent this year, the Economics Ministry said earlier this week.