Exports from Italy, the eurozone's third-biggest economy, to Switzerland grew by 35.6 per cent in February compared to the figure for February 2011 mainly because of sales of non-monetary raw gold, the official data agency Istat said in a statement.
This was up from a 33.4-per cent rise seen in January over a 12-month period.
Total exports from Italy were up 2.1 per cent from February 2011, while imports fell by 5.8 per cent. The fastest-growing export markets after Switzerland were Japan (22.1 per cent) and the United States (21.5 per
Imports were down 22.3 per cent from Turkey, 20.4 per cent from Japan and 11.5 per cent from China, but imports from Russia -- a key source of natural gas supplies during a particularly cold winter -- were up 31.8 per cent.
Italy's economy has been stuck in recession since the second half of last year and experts said improvements in the trade balance could be a tentative sign that Prime Minister Mario Monti's reforms are beginning to take effect.
The rapid rise of gold exports to Switzerland, however, is seen as a sign of continuing lack of confidence in Italy's economic prospects and a symptom of the government's crackdown on tax evasion and implementation of austerity cuts.
Italy exported a total of 120 tons of gold to Switzerland in 2011 -- a 65-per cent increase from 2010. Almost half of that amount was exported in the last four months of the year as tensions on the financial markets peaked.