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Speech by Minister of State Maria Böhmer at the Fifth Business Forum on Architecture, Planning and Construction at the Federal Foreign Office

25.01.2017

– Translation of advance text –

Presidents of the Business Forum’s partner associations,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the Business Forum on Architecture, Planning and Construction at the Federal Foreign Office! I am delighted to be here with you today.

This Business Forum is taking place for the fifth time, so it has become a well-established tradition. The title of this year’s conference is “Construction Worldwide – How German Expertise can Help to Meet Global Challenges”.

And this title can be applied directly to the challenges facing foreign policy in both recent and future months. More than ever, the world seems like a “building site”, with a large number of new actors, developments and uncertainties.

If I mention the inauguration of new US President Donald Trump, Brexit, Syria, the Ukraine conflict and the fight against international terrorism, these are only a few issues that indicate the range of foreign policy challenges currently facing us.

Although we do not have any definitive answers, we want our foreign policy experience and expertise to play an active role in endeavours to find solutions, particularly under our current Presidency of the G20.

There are many signs that we are not facing a random cluster of crises, but rather an ongoing longer‑term phase of upheaval and restructuring of the world order.

Trust in democratic institutions is fading, as was shown clearly in the Brexit referendum and the US elections. Political systems are becoming fragile. It is becoming more difficult to govern. The number of fragile states is increasing.

Many people, be they in emerging economies or developing countries, or indeed here in Europe, feel anxious. They are reacting to the impact of globalisation by retreating to what is familiar – the family, home, religion, that is, something that promises stability in the chaos of change.

But unfortunately, nationalism, religious and ethnic discrimination, and aggression against minorities and those who have different views are the dramatic consequences of this. And in unstable countries, these things, combined with corruption and a weak rule of law develop into crises or civil wars with political tensions, brutal violence and terrorism.

Democracy and the rule of law are the foundations of our state and coexistence. Particularly when dealing with autocratic systems, we need to champion and defend democracy and the rule of law even more forcefully than before.

Globalisation is the great challenge facing us. It is up to us to shape it. It seems that the rules of globalisation are currently being renegotiated, as perhaps indeed they must.

After all, many people are afraid of ending up as losers of globalisation. We need to counter this.

At the same time, we are witnessing a surprising new distribution of roles. While the new US President wants to isolate the world’s leading economy and to introduce new protective tariffs, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke out in Davos last week in favour of global cooperation, open markets and free trade.

As business people and decision-makers, you know that if protectionism takes the place of globalisation and free trade is curtailed, this will have a significant impact on Germany’s export trade. As a result, there are currently very high expectations of foreign policy and diplomacy.

In the struggle to uphold free markets and fair competition, we need all the help we can get – and hardly anyone is better suited to this role than German business owners and their staff!

It is clear to most companies how much Germany has benefited as an exporting country from globalisation. Globalisation and acceptance of a global order are both goals that we here in Germany must also promote once again in politics and society.

It is important that we convince the public of the benefits of globalisation. One good argument is the social market economy – a model that has brought us economic success. It is important to promote and protect this model worldwide because much is at stake.

The construction and housing sector has a great deal to offer in this regard. Your sector has a direct impact on the lives of billions of people worldwide.

Providing affordable and secure living space, dependable infrastructure and a stable water and energy supply are some of the main tasks facing public services.

Social peace, internal security and prosperity are closely linked to the question of how many people in a country have good housing, living and working conditions in terms of building quality.

This is why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also includes the goals of sustainability, water supply and urban design aimed at providing affordable housing.

At today’s event, we want to talk with you about how the German architecture, planning and construction sectors can help to solve the many global challenges facing us.

Energy-efficient buildings, a sustainable water supply and the German Government’s transport concept for cities in emerging economies and developing countries are among the topics on the agenda of today’s conference.

We are particularly interested in your feedback on the German Government’s Strategy Paper, New Impetus for International Competition on Major Strategic Projects – Improving Germany’s Prospects, which was adopted by the Cabinet in October 2016.

The issue of how we provide political and financial support for major international strategic projects is of huge importance to our competitiveness.

As one of the leading global suppliers, we need to improve. And we want to discuss with you today how we can achieve this.

In terms of region, we want to focus on Africa and Iran today. Although the political conditions are not always easy, Iran remains an attractive target market for German companies.

There is increased demand in all sectors in the country, including the residential sector, road construction and the energy industry. Demand for apartments stands at around 1.5 million units per year. Just under half of this demand is currently met.

Despite armed conflict, terrorism, unstable governments and corruption in some countries, Africa offers great opportunities for German businesses.

Economic growth and stable political conditions are providing a basis for trade and foreign investment in more and more countries in Africa. I was able to see these endeavours for myself during a visit to Tanzania and the East African Community.

Six of the ten countries in the world with growth rates in double digits are in Africa. Population growth will lead to an explosion in the numbers of people living in cities.
The World Bank forecasts that 900 million people will live in cities in Africa by 2030.

The problem so far has been that many German companies were not able to share in this boom, as the export credit guarantee policy placed obstacles in their way.
We discussed this problem in depth at the last Business Forums and have now resolved it at the political level.

A large number of pioneering infrastructure projects, with great opportunities for the German business sector, are being commissioned by the public sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Along with redrafting the export credit guarantee policy for Sub-Saharan Africa, we have also paved the way for safeguarding business with the public sector in Africa, thus giving German companies access to a substantial market. However, we do not want to simply leave it at that.

The second German-African Business Summit will take place in Nairobi next week and will be opened by Foreign Minister Steinmeier.

Africa will also be a key topic at the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting, which will be held in mid‑February, and at the G20 Summit hosted by Federal Chancellor Merkel in July.

The entire German Government – including the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety – is working towards closer cooperation with African countries.

The continent’s demographic development, wealth of natural resources and growing middle class have the potential to give rise to gigantic growth markets in the near future.

We want to actively support this course taken by our African partners and to use today’s Business Forum to help German companies to do business with Africa.

I hope you will all have stimulating and productive talks today.

Thank you very much.

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