Its German acronym is AWTIKT, its full title in English the Business Forum on Digital Innovation, IT and Communications Technology – Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Bitkom President Thorsten Dirks jointly opened the event at the Federal Foreign Office on Friday (25 September). Representatives of companies and the Government were there to discuss the promotion of foreign trade and investment in light of digitisation and Industry 4.0.
In his opening speech, Foreign Minister Steinmeier talked about global involvement, astonishing digital developments in Africa and new forms of interconnection. He said that, as one of the most-connected countries in the world, Germany was particularly affected by digital developments. This, Steinmeier suggested, was why it was particularly important to have this year’s Business Forum dedicated to digital innovation, IT and communications technology, in cooperation with the German IT association Bitkom.
Political input and digital innovation
From the point of view of the Federal Foreign Office, Steinmeier explained, “it is crucial for us to keep an eye on the innovative developments abroad and to actively mirror them in our own country.” He also pointed out that Germany’s model of prosperity depended on its ability to innovate, adding that foreign trade was generating powerful impetus in the digital sector too. Steinmeier said he had been preparing the Federal Foreign Office and its 220 missions abroad for this challenge over the last two years to ensure they were as ready as possible to provide the right political input around the world. The 2014 and 2015 Ambassadors Conferences both had focuses relating to Industry 4.0 and digital developments.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier also touched on digital developments in Africa, saying that they presented major opportunities for German companies since, “In certain areas, Africa manages to leapfrog stages of the development process and to come up with digital solutions which are not adjustments to our technology but rather its own developments.” He emphasised the importance of this in relation to foreign policy, in terms of ensuring that economic growth goes hand in hand with broad social participation to allow African countries to enjoy as much stability as possible.
The internet is a global commodity
On the subject of access to information and networks, Steinmeier underlined Germany’s advocacy for an open and safe internet. Germany had joined Brazil to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly, he said, because “We’re working for a free, open, safe and stable cyberspace. But we cannot do it alone. We’ll only be able to counteract those who do not view this matter with the same sensitivity if we act not as Germany alone but together with our European partners.”
Afterwards, the participants engaged in dialogue in four workshops. The topics included funding and foreign trade and investment promotion specially for start-ups and IT security ‘made in Germany’. Entitled From Innovation to New Norms, the session concentrated mainly on how the promotion of foreign trade and investment and its instruments should be developed further. A fourth, regional focus was innovation in Africa, the ‘digital continent’.
The event ended with a discussion involving State Secretary Stephan Steinlein, Brigitte Zypries, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Economic Affairs Ministry, Winfried Holz, CEO of ATOS, and Clas Neumann, Senior Vice President of SAP.