Bilateral relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia were formalised as early with 1929 with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Germany and the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd. This was three years before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was proclaimed. The Federal Republic of Germany has maintained diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 1954.
At the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel last held talks with the Saudi Arabian leadership in Jeddah on 30 April 2017. This was her third trip to Saudi Arabia following visits in 2007 and 2010.
Saudi Arabia is Germany’s second most important Arab trading partner after the United Arab Emirates. For its part, Germany is the fourth-largest supplier of Saudi Arabian imports. Saudi Arabia imports German products and services on a substantial scale. Germany’s main exports to Saudi Arabia are machinery, motor vehicles, chemical products and electrical, precision engineering and optical goods. In 2018, German exports to Saudi Arabia were worth 6.26 billion euros (-4% compared with the previous year), while German imports from Saudi Arabia totalled 1178 billion euros (+46.7% compared with 2017).
Industrial diversification and renewable energies are key issues in Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform programme and National Transformation Programme 2020. These are core areas of German expertise, meaning that there are good prospects for the development of economic cooperation between the two countries. An investment protection agreement has been in place since 1999.
Through the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (MODON), Saudi Arabia offers a range of incentives to encourage foreign companies to invest and create jobs in the country. All companies in Saudi Arabia, including foreign companies and joint ventures, are now required to employ a certain percentage of Saudi Arabian nationals.
The German-Saudi Arabian Liaison Office for Economic Affairs (GESALO) in Riyadh has represented German business interests in the country since 1978. The Saudi-German Joint Economic Commission, launched in 1975, comprises government and business representatives.
Cultural relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia were not established until fairly recently. Cultural cooperation is based on an intergovernmental agreement that entered into force on 2 April 2006. There are German Schools in Jeddah and Riyadh. King Saud University in Riyadh offers a degree course in German-Arabic Translation. A number of Saudi Arabian students take advantage of the opportunity to attend summer courses in Germany. Around 1150 students from Saudi Arabia are currently studying in Germany with the help of grants from the Saudi Government.
The German Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Jeddah hold concerts, lectures, exhibitions and film screenings, thus enabling Saudi Arabians to become acquainted with German culture. The expansion of the cultural programme in Saudi Arabia, as well as cultural and social liberalisation, are elements of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. In 2017, the Saudi Arabian Government lifted a ban on concerts and cinemas. It is also promoting sports for the general public, in particular for girls and women. Since January 2018, women have been allowed to enter sports stadiums.
In 2016, Germany was the guest of honour at Saudi Arabia’s biggest cultural event, the Al Janadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, held under the patronage of King Salman. A Goethe-Institut, so far offering only language classes, was opened in Riyadh in May 2014.
The German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Marburg are active in Saudi Arabia with research projects in Tayma, working closely with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
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