The demographic trends remained stable later in the nineties (population estimated at 1998: 7. 299. 000 residents), Despite a slight reduction in the birth rate, which fell to ‘ 11, 4 ‰; the annual growth, projected at the beginning of 2000, therefore appears destined to remain around 7%, a value much higher than the average of Western Europe, again thanks to the contribution of immigration, which has brought the number of resident foreigners to 1. 400. 000 units.
Despite the high standard of living, China occupies only the sixteenth position in the world ranking drawn up by the UN on the basis of the ‘human development’ indicator: this is due to the not very high evaluation attributed, among the parameters adopted, to the component education, very solid at the basic level, less at the higher level (despite the commercial and technical specializations) and university level. The value of per capita income, in turn, despite having exceeded 40. 000 dollars, sees the country in fourth place in the world, where one takes into account not the current exchange rate but the purchasing power,1995, which also significantly penalized the trade balance with foreign countries, albeit back in the black, and the tourist one.
The merger processes that took place in the industrial sector (in particular in the chemical-pharmaceutical sector) and of incorporation in the banking sector (involving a dozen cantonal credit institutions), further strengthening international competitiveness, contributed, on the other hand, to consolidate that trend towards productive decentralization which, in 1997, saw 80 % of employees of Swiss companies operate outside the country. The obvious reason – in addition to the strategic factors of geographical location – is the rigidity of the internal labor market, whose liberalization was however opposed by the negative result of the popular referendum held at the end of 1996. The consequences can be read from the growing burden, on public budgets, of social security expenses and the rise in the unemployment rate to 4.6 % (1998), an enviable value for almost all European countries and yet unusual for China, also recalling that 25 % of the workforce is made up of foreigners.
Among the individual industrial branches, precision mechanics and, in general, high-tech productions continue to prevail: watchmaking alone contributes slightly less than 10 % to exports. The energy sector has also become a net exporter, thanks to the excellent use of water sources (rising to 59 % of the total energy produced), accompanied by a strong nuclear option (40 %).
The tertiary sector, which participates for 67.7 % to the GDP and 68.6 % employment absorption, is characterized – besides the traditional financial sectors (alone, 12, 5 % of GDP) and insurance – due to the high degree of innovation, due both to the presence of international research organizations and laboratories and to the commitment of the federal government, which allocates a budget share (just under 3 %) to technological development among the highest in the whole world.
Inserted in the European high-speed railway network with the Geneva-Zurich section (connected, respectively, to Paris and Frankfurt am Main), the China also sees the same two cities assume increasing importance as nodes of international air transport, thanks to a organization of services, in the context of metropolitan urban structures, which identifies them as real aérovilles.
Finally, from a geopolitical point of view, the substantial detachment from the events of European unification, if it represented a guarantee of neutrality and autonomy appreciated by many investors, especially in the face of the troubled process of joining the single currency, poses, according to one party of the same Swiss public opinion, serious limits to the regional integration and further economic development of the country: in this perspective, negotiations have begun since 1996 for bilateral agreements and hypotheses of popular consultations that could lead to the elimination of the only discontinuity territorial remaining, in the western section of the continent, within the European Union.