Last updated in September 2013
Germany and Bhutan enjoy very friendly relations. Diplomatic relations do not yet exist between the two countries but consular relations were established in late 2000. Official contacts are maintained via the respective embassies in New Delhi. Bhutan first formally declared its interest in cooperation with the Federal Republic of Germany, in particular its desire for economic cooperation, in 1978. Following the first official visit to Bhutan by the German Ambassador in New Delhi in February 1979, a delegation of three German Bundestag members visited the Himalayan kingdom in December 1983, the first such visit ever made by a parliamentary delegation.
Bhutan took part in the Expo 2000 World Exposition in Hanover, the first time the country had presented itself to a wide international public. The two-day visit to Bhutan by former Federal President von Weizsäcker in the same year was prepared and conducted by the Bhutanese side like an official state visit.
In 2012, Bhutan was formally admitted to the German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with the States of South Asia. A visit to Bhutan in February 2013 by a delegation of this group helped strengthen parliamentary relations with Bhutan’s National Assembly and National Council.
In addition, during a number of visits to Bhutan by the German Ambassador in New Delhi, the land-locked country expressed its interest in cautiously developing relations with Germany.
In September 2010, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel met with then Bhutanese Prime Minister Thinley for the first time for government-level talks on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.
Bhutan has supported the German bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council as well as a number of other German candidacies.
There is room for improvement in bilateral economic relations. In 2012, Germany exported goods worth EUR 2.9 million to Bhutan (compared with EUR 6.6 million in 2011) and imported from there goods worth EUR 1.1 million (compared with EUR 0.8 million in 2011). The main German exports to Bhutan are machinery, electrical goods, manufacturing plant and paper goods. Iron and steel are Bhutan’s principal exports to Germany, accounting for 92.6 per cent of German imports from there (Germany Trade & Invest 2013). As there are currently no long-term bilateral trade or investment projects, even minor business transactions can have a considerable impact on the bilateral balance of trade from one year to the next.
Germany supports Bhutan through its contributions to international organisations that are engaged in the country, e.g. the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Union (EU) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
Bhutan is generally interested in economic cooperation with Germany and has for many years taken advantage of bilateral training and further-education courses held there, e.g. those offered by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) or those organised for young diplomats at the Federal Foreign Office. Young executives from Bhutan’s administrative sector and from non-governmental organisations receive practical training in Germany as part of the German Academic Exchange Service’s (DAAD) Postgraduate Courses for Professionals with Relevance to Developing Countries. Every year, three to four Bhutanese students are awarded scholarships enabling them to complete a two-year master’s programme.
The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) promotes in particular civil-society engagement through projects conducted by non-governmental organisations and private intermediaries. The Senior Experten Service (SES), for example, is active in Bhutan. In cooperation with the business community, the Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation is engaged in a project to build and strengthen the microfinance sector in Bhutan. A nationwide disaster prevention project at Bhutan’s schools was also supported. As part of democracy promotion, Germany regularly supports further-education measures for the country’s police force and judiciary.
In addition, several German associations are engaged in Bhutan and maintain their own contacts to partner organisations there, e.g. Bhutanhilfe e.V., Pro Bhutan e.V. and the Deutsche Bhutan-Himalaya Gesellschaft e.V.
Cultural, scientific and academic exchange
On the cultural front, Germany has in recent years supported several cultural preservation projects in Bhutan, e.g. the reconstruction of cantilever bridge at the historic Dzong (fortress monastery) in Punakha, which was officially opened by Bhutan’s Prime Minister in May 2008. In addition, a permanent photography exhibition in the turrets of the cantilever bridge – also funded by the Federal Foreign Office under its Cultural Preservation Programme – was opened by then Prime Minister Thinley in late October 2011.
In 2008, the newly established Trongsa Penlop Library, a public library in the Thimphu Valley, received a donation of books from the German Embassy.
There are some instances of German scientists cooperating with ministries and research institutions in Bhutan, e.g. in geology and climate research. The Max Planck Society is engaged in a joint ornithological research project with Bhutan.