PARIS — The Swiss government has banned imports of Russian gold and gold products.
The measure, which came into effect Aug. 3 as part of new sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, covers the purchase, import and transport of gold and gold products as well as services connected to them. Similar bans were made by the U.S. and European Union in a bid to curtail Russia’s effort to alleviate other sanctions by selling off its gold reserves.
“With the decision of August 3, Switzerland is implementing the most urgent measures in terms of time and substance,” the seven-member Federal Council said in a statement.
An import of 3.1 tons of gold from Russia to Switzerland in May, the first time since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, had sparked controversy, with precious metal refining associations in the country calling for a tighter legal framework.
While Switzerland remains a major hub in the gold trade, with its gold refineries processing 70 percent of the unrefined gold mined in the world each year, according to figures tallied by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, the impact on the Swiss watches and jewelry sector cannot be immediately assessed.
It may be limited. Figures published by the Swiss Federal Customs Administration indicate direct gold imports from Russia amounted to 17.5 tons, valued at 925 million Swiss Francs (or $962 million at current exchange rates) out of an overall 84.2 billion Swiss Francs (or $87.6 billion) market in 2021. Switzerland also imports palladium from Russia.
Christoph Wild, president of the Swiss Association of Manufacturers and Traders in Precious Metal, a body representing more than 90 percent of refiners in the country, said in an email to WWD that “the decision [of the Swiss government and the EU to ban imports of Russian gold] will only have a marginal impact for Swiss refiners, as the quantities of gold imported from Russia are relatively small.”
He reiterated the association’s position expressed in July that “dubious gold had no place in Switzerland and that [it and its members would not accept] any risk of participating in the [Russian] war effort through the purchase of Russian gold.”
With the U.K. among the major sources of gold for Switzerland, imports has been seen as de facto frozen after the London Bullion Market Association, a key player in the market, struck Russian refiners from its accredited list.
Also included in Wednesday’s announcement were the freezing and banning of prominent Russian bank Sberbank as well as the confirmation of a July 29 decision adding individuals, organizations and entities to its sanctions list, all moves that bring the country “fully in line” with the European Union’s recent sanctions updates.
Exceptions were added to “avoid disruption to payment channels” for transactions on agricultural products and oil supplies between Russia and third countries as part of Switzerland’s commitments to tackle the global food and energy crisis.