Last updated in February 2018
Bilateral relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia were formalised as early as 1929 by the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Germany and the Kingdom of the Hijaz and the Nejd. This was three years before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was proclaimed. Germany has maintained diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 1954. As with other Arab nations, Germany is held in high regard in Saudi Arabia.
Relations between the two countries are fostered by regular high-level visits in both directions. At the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with the Saudi Arabian leadership in Jeddah on 30 April 2017. This marked her third trip to Saudi Arabia after visits in 2007 and 2010. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir has, since taking office in May 2015, visited Germany several times, most recently in February 2017 to attend the Munich Security Conference and in June 2017 to hold talks with Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. During a trip to the Gulf region, Foreign Minister Gabriel met his Saudi Arabian counterpart in Jeddah on 3 July 2017. There are also frequent visits to Saudi Arabia by members of the German Cabinet, Members of the German Bundestag and delegations from Germany’s federal states as well as visits to Germany by Saudi Arabian officials.
Saudi Arabia is Germany’s second most important Arab trading partner after the United Arab Emirates. For its part, Germany is the third largest supplier of Saudi Arabian imports. Saudi Arabia imports German products and services on a large scale. Germany’s main exports to Saudi Arabia are machinery, motor vehicles and chemical products as well as electrical, precision engineering und optical goods. In 2016, however, bilateral trade between Germany and Saudi Arabia decreased approximately 27 percent over the previous year to 7.3 billion euros. During this period, German imports from Saudi Arabia declined year-on-year by just under 29 percent, to a little over 622 million euros. It remains to be seen whether this downward trend will continue given the current relative stabilisation of the oil price.
In the future, Saudi Arabia will remain an interesting market for German companies. Industrial diversification and renewable energy are key issues in Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform programme as well as its National Transformation Program 2020, and these are core areas of German competence. This means that there are good prospects of greater 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. Foreign companies and joint ventures are 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. Launched in 1975, the Saudi-German Joint Economic Commission comprises representatives of the two countries’ governments and business communities.
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. There is also a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) lector at King Saud University in Riyadh. In recent years, some 1300 Saudi Arabian students have come to Germany to study on grants provided under a scholarship programme. There is a programme in German-Arabic Translation at King Saud University. A number of Saudi Arabian students take advantage of the opportunity to attend summer courses in Germany.
The German Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Jeddah organise concerts, lectures, exhibitions and film screenings, enabling Saudi Arabians to become acquainted with German culture. The Vision 2030 reform programme also provides for an expansion of cultural activities in Saudi Arabia as well as for an opening up of Saudi Arabian culture and society. 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. In addition, 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 Jenadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, held under the patronage of King Salman. The German Pavilion, which presented political, societal and cultural themes as well as business and technology topics and included performances by 15 different groups of artists, drew some 400,000 visitors. Germany’s appearance as guest of honour made it possible to use the cultural policy opportunities offered by this annual festival to engender an intensive exchange with Saudi Arabia’s civil society.
A Goethe-Institut, so far still limited to providing language courses, was opened in Riyadh in May 2014. To meet the high demand, it has been offering German instruction at two locations since June 2016. In other parts of the country, the opportunities to learn German outside King Saud University’s German programme are limited to a few individual initiatives, as well as private tuition and distance learning. German is not offered as a foreign language at schools providing general education.
The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) and Philipps-Universität Marburg are active in Saudi Arabia with excavations at Tayma and an underwater project near Jeddah. Here, they are working together closely with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH).
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.