Encouraging Economic Development in the Arab Countries
Donnerstag, November 19th, 2009
Interview mit dem Arab German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Thomas Bach, president of the Ghorfa Arab German Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The economic crisis has had only relatively little affect on the Arab countries. Their economic power, especially that of the oil and gas producing countries, has even had a stabilizing effect. ARAB FORUM was able to speak with the president of the Ghorfa Arab German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Thomas Bach, and ask some questions about the future of German-Arab economic relations, including Iraq’s potential and educational training as an export article.
ARAB FORUM: What is the current status of German-Arab economic relations in view of the current global economic and financial crisis?
Dr. Bach: The economic development in the Arab states has proven to be an encouraging factor in the current global economic slowdown. As an exporting nation, Germany’s business particularly profits from this development. German exports to the Arab world have risen in 2008 by more than 20 percent to a record value of 28.1 billion euros. In the first quarter of 2009 these exports increased another 2.9 percent compared to the first quarter of last year. This development impressively demonstrates that German-Arab relations are not a part of the problem but rather a part of the solution.
ARAB FORUM: Compared worldwide, the Arab countries have only been mildly affected. Why is this the case?
Dr. Bach: The resources-rich Arab states have taken advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ in recent years to diversify their national economies and reduce their dependency on their oil and natural gas reserves. The economic and structural reforms initiated in almost all Arab countries and the improved investment climate are showing effects, and accelerating this development. Particular attention is being given here to sectors that promise high sustainability. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for example, has made massive investments in the health care sector, and the Emirate of Qatar is planning to position itself in the future as a center of education and study.
ARAB FORUM: In the spring, the Ghorfa hosted the 1st German-Arab Education and Vocational Training Forum, which attracted a great amount of interest and must be considered a complete success. How do you explain the large reaction to the subject of education for which the Ghorfa seems to have assumed a pacesetting role?
Dr. Bach: Over a third of the Arab population is under the age of 15. Some 70 million are seeking vocational training that leads to a job. Along with other products, training “made in Germany” also enjoy an excellent reputation in the Arab world. This is especially true of the system of dual training on the job and in vocational school. This very system is custom-tailored for the needs of the Arab world where it is essential to train sufficient workers to meet the demand.
ARAB FORUM: Although IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, is a German initiative, it was decided at the 2nd preparatory conference last June in Sharm El Sheikh to install IRENA’s Secretariat General in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, the world’s first Co2-free city. Would this indicate the future of renewable energies is being shaped in the Arab countries, particularly those producing oil and natural gas?
Dr. Bach: This fact once again shows that the Arab countries are conscious of the finite amount of fossil fuels they possess and are already today thinking about strategies for the time they are depleted. In addition, the climatic conditions on the Arab Peninsula are near to ideal for solar energy.
Independent of the seat of the Secretariat General, IRENA is more of a global project than a national one. It was also determined that the home of its Technology and Innovation Center will be Bonn.
ARAB FORUM: A good deal of activity by Germany and particularly Iraq aimed at exploiting Mesopotamia’s economic potential has been observed in business and politics in the last year and a half. In November the Ghorfa hosted another two-day forum on the subject in Berlin. Where do Iraq’s economic strengths lie, and what do they wish from German business and government?
Dr. Bach: Iraq not only has excellent growth potential due to its wealth of oil and natural gas, but also particularly because of its young and well educated population. But above all, the Iraqi government is vigorously and conscienciously pursuing the reconstruction of the country. At the same time, German industry has the know-how and technology necessary to do it. It is therefore in everyone’s interest to seize the opportunity offered to work together and to make optimum use of it. The forum in November provides companies from both countries an excellent opportunity to create the basis for such cooperation through personal contact.
ARAB FORUM: Where do you see further potential for German-Arab economic relations?
Dr. Bach: It is of decisive importance for the future sustainability of German-Arab economic relations to not just limit the cooperation to a simple exchange of goods. Particularly in times likes these, it is strategic partnerships that hold the promise of the greatest success possible for both sides. This also opens up new opportunities, such as developing third markets together.
Interview conducted by Rainer Schubert