Last updated in February 2017
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 bilateral contacts are maintained via the German Embassy 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. In 2015, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Bhutanese Prime Minister on the margins of the UN General Assembly. In November 2016, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visited Germany to receive the German Sustainability Award.
There is room for improvement in bilateral economic relations. The main German exports to Bhutan are machinery, electrical goods, manufacturing plant and paper goods. Germany’s principal imports from Bhutan are iron and steel. In 2015, bilateral trade was worth a total of EUR 64.99 million, putting Bhutan in 148th place among Germany’s trading partners. 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 multilaterally 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).
Bilaterally, Bhutan has for many years taken advantage of training and further-education courses held in Germany. 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, a number of scholarships are awarded, enabling a two-year master’s programme to be completed.
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 engaged in Bhutan in the training of experts for the health care and tourism sectors. In the area of economic cooperation, the BMZ is supporting a project by the Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation to build and strengthen the microfinance sector in Bhutan.
Germany’s political foundations include Bhutan in their regional projects. In addition, several German associations are engaged in Bhutan and maintain their own contacts to partner organisations there, e.g. Bhutan Hilfe e.V., Pro Bhutan e.V. and the Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft e.V.
As part of efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law, Germany supports further-education measures for the country’s police force and judiciary. A nationwide disaster prevention project at Bhutan’s schools was also supported.
The German Embassy in New Delhi regularly supports microprojects in Bhutan to improve the standard of medical care there and promote the interests of people with disabilities, frequently in cooperation with the German association Pro Bhutan e.V.
Culture and research
On the cultural front, Germany has in recent years supported 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.
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.