Last updated in March 2013
Relations between the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and Germany are cordial and untroubled. Since the UN Transitional Administration of 1999, East Timor has received extensive assistance from Germany for nation-building. After achieving national independence on 20 May 2002, East Timor was recognized by Germany under international law and diplomatic relations were established.
Timor-Leste’s former President Ramos-Horta has been a regular guest in Germany since November 2002, his most recent visit being in September 2012. Then Foreign Minister da Costa visited Berlin in April 2012. In 2004, then President and current Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão paid his first visit to Germany at the invitation of the German Federal Government. Then Federal Foreign Minister Fischer visited Dili in 2005 (the first foreign minister of an EU country to do so following independence).
In 2012, bilateral trade remained very modest at around EUR 5.5 million. According to Federal Statistical Office figures, in 2012 Timorese exports to Germany (mainly coffee) were worth approximately EUR 4.8 million, compared with approximately EUR 15 million in 2011. Imports from Germany stood at approximately EUR 591,000, compared with EUR 520,000 in 2011. German investment in Timor-Leste is also fairly insignificant at present. The bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement (BIPA) with Timor-Leste, which was signed on 10 August 2005 and legally promulgated by the German side on 8 February 2007, was, after numerous delays, referred by Cabinet decision to the Timorese Parliament for approval on 10 September 2010. In a verbal note dated 16 March 2011, the Timorese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the investment protection agreement had been ratified. The relevant instrument of ratification has not yet been presented.
Germany’s engagement in Timor-Leste focuses on promoting peace and development, especially in rural areas. This is also a priority of the country’s own development strategy (Timor-Leste Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030). Particularly important is giving young people in rural areas the feeling that they can gain an accepted place in society. Creating jobs would appear to be the key to overcoming poverty and the temptation to engage in violence.
Development cooperation between Timor-Leste and Germany began in 1999 during the UN Transitional Administration. The initial focus was on food aid, emergency and refugee relief and drinking-water supply in the eastern districts. Experts from Germany were instrumental in building a citizen registration system and issuing identity cards in Timor-Leste. The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) also received support in publishing its final report “Chega!”. Reconciliation with Indonesia was also a feature of trilateral cooperation, under which, for example, public sector employees from Timor-Leste have been given the opportunity to study at universities in Indonesia.
At the intergovernmental talks between Germany and Timor-Leste held in Dili in November 2011, Germany pledged EUR 4.5 million in Technical Cooperation, i.e. for consulting services, and EUR 6 million in Financial Cooperation. That brings the total volume of German commitments so far to more than EUR 50 million. Bilateral government development cooperation is currently pursuing the above-mentioned goals by implementing various measures including those listed below.
The Rural Development Programme (RDP) involves agricultural consulting, business development and training, the development of rural business initiatives and services as well as village community initiatives, water catchment area and forestry management and rural infrastructure. Phase IV of the RDP, which began in 2012, is being largely supported by the European Union and co-funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and a Portuguese institution have been tasked with its implementation.
A new project entitled Sustainable Use of Agricultural Biodiversity to Secure Livelihoods was launched in 2012 and is designed to counter the effects of widespread destructive overuse of agricultural land and soil degradation. The European Union also supports this project.
The Timor-Leste Peace Fund supports the building of state institutions for youth care and non-violent conflict management as well as dozens of individual youth projects.
The Youth Employment Promotion project is providing agricultural training and helping the relevant government agencies to establish consulting facilities across the country. It also offers start-up assistance for youth production groups. A new project to exploit other employment options in rural areas is in preparation.
Building transport infrastructure to connect rural regions with the country’s capital and coastal areas is one of the major challenges facing Timor-Leste and an essential prerequisite for its future development. Cooperation in the maritime transport sector began with the establishment of a ferry connection between the capital Dili, Atauro Island and the coast of Oecussi, a Timorese enclave of the western side of Timor Island surrounded by Indonesian territory. The German-funded passenger and freight ferry Berlin Nakroma is so far the country’s only domestic maritime connection. Cooperation in this area also covers ship maintenance and repair facilities, including the required training, and the creation of an institutional framework for maritime legislation and the observance of international maritime transport standards. Initial preparations have already been made to establish a ferry connection with the country’s south coast.
Six experts seconded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) are currently engaged in projects in the country. In addition, there are three Integrated Experts from Germany working directly for government ministries and other authorities in Timor-Leste.
German government engagement in the country – in some cases supported by Federal Government funding – is complemented by the work of church-affiliated organizations, Germany’s political foundations and other non-governmental organizations.
As part of its Foreign Cultural and Educational Policy, Germany has made a significant contribution to the young nation’s sense of identity under its Cultural Preservation Programme. In cooperation with the Timorese Ministry of Culture and UNESCO, a film archive has been set up with funds from this programme.
In view of the poor training conditions for many of Timor-Leste’s journalists, since 2007 Germany has invited several of them to attend further-education seminars in Germany and Indonesia conducted by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the GIZ.
Since 2002, a large number of Timorese students (who were, however, studying in Indonesia) have been invited to study in Germany on German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarships. Most recently, five Timorese students studying in the Philippines were awarded DAAD scholarships.
An EU film festival has been held in Dili every year in December since 2008. Besides Germany, many other EU member countries are regular participants.