The growing importance of foreign trade policy
Foreign trade is a key factor in Germany’s economic output and safeguards many jobs in Germany. Germany is integrated into the global economy and dependent on its growth to a greater extent than many other countries. In this connection, Germany’s competitiveness on the global market is of increasing importance. Its attractiveness to foreign investors is crucial, for their investments create additional jobs in our country.
At the same time, globalisation has meant that people’s lives all over the world are ever more closely interconnected. The shared responsibility of the international community to ensure stable economic development for the benefit of everyone is becoming increasingly apparent. Not even political conflicts can disguise the fact that trade and a dense network of economic links create trust and help stabilise international relations.
It is therefore a central task of Germany’s foreign policy both to promote and protect German economic interests in the world and to help foster the further development of just and sustainable global economic cooperation.
The role of the state in external economic promotion
Germany’s economic creativity, high standards, efficiency and reliability have put it into the first division of leading industrialised nations. This development has been supported and fostered by a responsible foreign trade and investment policy. In the free market economy, business initiative takes centre stage. State foreign trade and investment promotion therefore cannot, and indeed does not intend to, replace industry’s own efforts. Rather, it has a complementary effect, helping companies to access markets abroad and to assert themselves in these markets, and helps to enhance basic conditions for doing business. The state and business work in close cooperation here. Both state institutions (such as embassies, consulates general, Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI)) and business institutions (above all the German chambers of commerce abroad) provide information and advisory services and can broker contacts. In addition to this, the state does much to promote business activities abroad (among other things, through trade fair programmes, investment protection agreements and guarantees for export credits and direct investments).
The German Government is particularly keen to support small and medium-sized companies because they form the backbone of the German economy. Missions and chambers of commerce abroad therefore do all they can to advise and look after the interests of this group.
Moreover, it is the state’s task in bilateral and multilateral negotiations, in the European Union, in the OECD and in the WTO, to work towards a framework through which competition and trade can develop as freely as possible while, at the same time, international employees’ rights and environmental standards are respected. Where high barriers make access to foreign markets difficult for German companies, foreign trade and investment policy can help dismantle them.
The Federal Foreign Office: political mentor, networker and adviser
Foreign trade and investment promotion is one of the foreign service’s main tasks. Along with its just under 230 missions abroad, the Federal Foreign Office offers a broad range of services worldwide to support German firms engaged in foreign markets. The staff at German embassies and consulates general, as well as at headquarters in Berlin, see themselves as:
Political mentors and facilitators
Using their profound knowledge of the political scene and economy of the host country, they represent specific business interests vis‑à‑vis foreign government bodies, initiate and guide talks of relevance to business, establish contacts with political and business decision-makers and work towards market access for German products and services.
What is more, they establish contacts between institutions, individuals and companies in Germany and the host country, support and hold roundtables, workshops and regional conferences and organise events for German firms exhibiting at trade fairs abroad and for these firms’ business partners.
Finally, they advise firms on business policy issues, inform business associations about interesting projects and tenders worldwide, report regularly on economic and political conditions abroad, and help assess the risks regarding export and investment guarantees.
In addition to this diverse engagement, the missions carry out PR work for Germany as a location for business and work to improve conditions for German business activity around the world. The Federal Foreign Office is involved, among other things, in the negotiation of double taxation agreements and works in European and international bodies such as the WTO, the OECD and the UN, to create conditions favourable to trade and investment and to achieve equal opportunities for German companies.