‏Saudi-German relations reach new heights with Chancellor Merkel’s visit

German Unity Day


CHANCELLOR Merkel’s visit on April 30 and May 1 marks a further tightening of bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Germany. It was already her third journey to the Kingdom since taking office. “Her visits reflects the growing role of Saudi Arabia on the world stage, has opened up new economic and security cooperation and paved the way for a strategic approach on the key challenges of today’s world,” said Germany’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Dieter Haller. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Chancellor Merkel reiterated their commitment to combatting terror, both through fighting terrorist organizations like Daesh (so-called IS) but also by addressing the root causes of terror for instance through boosting development in impoverished countries.

‏Merkel’s talks with King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman, deputy premier and minster of defense, focused on bilateral relations, the ambitious Saudi plans laid down in Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program as well as possibilities for Germany and German companies to be partners in its successful implementation. A number of agreements concluded on the occasion of the visit are a testimony to Germany’s commitment to Vision 2030: The German private sector will provide vocational training for young Saudis via the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) and large German investments will be made in the field of information technology. Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser and the Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, Khalid Al-Falih signed a memorandum of understanding to develop sustainable industries. In the field of security, common training for the Saudi police force in border protection and training courses for Saudi military personnel in different courses were agreed.

‏Saudi Arabia and Germany will also join forces in the fight against poverty and underdevelopment and the root causes of worldwide terrorism. To this end, the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development will realize common aid projects in third countries like Mali and Niger. “Our joint efforts in fragile countries in Africa demonstrate: we are living up to our international responsibilities,” underlined Haller. That Saudi German cooperation goes far beyond the bilateral relations is apparent in the timing of Merkel’s visit in the run-up to the G20 summit in Hamburg, which underlined the importance of a multilateral approach to facing global challenges and saw a number of important outcomes ranging from the commitment to the rules-based international trading system of the WTO, over the endorsement of the G20 Africa Partnership, to the renewal of a commitment to fight terrorism including its financing. For its upcoming G20 presidency, Ambassador Haller congratulated the Kingdom: “Saudi-Arabia hosting the summit in 2020 reflects the growing importance of the Kingdom as a player in global governance. I wish the Kingdom the best of success for its G20 presidency.”

‏Economic relations between Saudi Arabia and Germany reflect the modernization and transformation of the Saudi economy. The speed at which Saudi Arabia is overhauling its infrastructure has created a strong demand for machinery — a traditional strength of the German economy. The years from 2010 to 2015 have seen a considerable increase in bilateral trade. Exports from Saudi Arabia to Germany grew from 643 million euro in 2010 to 873 million euro in 2015. Similarly, imports from Germany to Saudi Arabia grew from 5.8 billion to 9.9 billion over the same period. In 2016 exports from Saudi Arabia amounted to 622 million euro and imports from Germany to Saudi Arabia amounted to 7.3 billion euro. In the last year, imports as well as exports have decreased due to the postponement of important investment and infrastructure projects. The figures from the first and second quarter show that bilateral trade is stabilizing and even picking up again. In the first six months of this year Saudi Arabia’s imports from Germany amounted to 3.4 billion euro compared with 3.8 billion euro for the same period in 2016. Saudi Arabia’s exports to Germany amounted to 344 million euro. This is about 80% more than in the same period in 2016 (191 million euro) and points towards a more balanced trade balance.

‏In the long run, the current trade based relationship is likely to be complemented by an investment partnership. Already now, there is a wide variety of German investments in the Kingdom. Siemens has established a gas turbine plant in Dammam and the Linde gas facility in Jubail II is Linde’s biggest foreign investment. But there are also longstanding investments from small and medium enterprises, like the KSB pump plant or the Fuchs lubricants factory. In fact small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the German economy and in many cases these hidden champions are world beaters for their highly special products. Their expertise in energy efficiency, renewable energies, manufacturing and digitalization will be a key to a successful implementation of the Vision 2030.

‏Connecting Saudi and German business has been the mission of the German-Saudi Arabian Liaison Office for Economic Affairs (GESALO) for almost 40 years. As a member of the world-wide network of the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad GESALO serves German and Saudi Arabian companies by providing a broad range of services: among them market entry information, trade fairs marketing, business partner search, mediation, visa and translation services. Furthermore, one of the key activities is organizing delegation trips in various fields. From Nov. 11 to 15 for instance, German small and medium enterprises will spot market potentials during a five-day trip to Riyadh with a focus on water and wastewater management. “GESALO is proud that it has served numerous companies and business people over the last decades”, says Oliver Oehms, head of GESALO.

‏German-Saudi cultural relations have reached a new and important milestone in the last year with the opening of the new building of the Goethe Institute in Umm Al Hamam in November. On its new premises the language training center offers an even broader range of language courses on all levels — from beginners to advanced. At the same time the institute is working hard to stage a diverse and inspiring cultural program consisting of exhibitions, concerts and lectures. In September a “Night of Music and Culture” marked the opening of a new season of cultural events. On Oct. 13 a concert with six musicians from Germany took place, showcasing traditional Bavarian folk music. More events will follow over the course of the year.

‏For parents and children interested in a German school education, the German international schools in Riyadh and Jeddah are the place to go. Academic ties between Saudi Arabia and Germany are promoted by the German Academic Exchange Service. Its representative at King Saud University, Michael Alszer, offers counseling on how and where to study in Germany. The DAAD also cooperates with the King Saud University in Riyadh. The German department at the College for Languages and Translation offers a Bachelor degree in “German for translators” to young Saudis. Around 70 young men are currently enrolled in this program. Two Saudi professors, Dr. Faiz Alshehri and Dr. Abdullah Alsahran, as well as a DAAD lecturer from Germany, Michael Alszer, guide the future translators towards proficiency and expertise. — SG