Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here tonight.
I have experienced great Arab hospitality already twice this year. In January, I had the pleasure to visit Riyadh, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Sanaa. My second trip led me to Beirut, Cairo, Amman, and Damascus just two weeks ago. I hope your stay in Berlin will be as unforgettable as my recent trips.
I would like to welcome you all to Berlin.
The German government works hand in hand and on all levels to promote industry and trade. This is a priority for our chancellor, Angela Merkel, for my colleague and good friend, the Minister of Economics and Technology, Rainer Brüderle, and for me.
We lay a special focus on the promotion of a strong role of small and medium-sized companies in international trade. These companies are the backbone of the German economy.
Promoting business activities abroad is good for both sides. We contribute to more prosperity at home, protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs. We also contribute to more prosperity for our partners, who benefit from diversification of their local production and from modernisation of their infrastructure.
In my remarks today, do not expect me to paint a picture of the variety of Germany's economic and political ties with the Arab world. That picture would be incomplete at best. There is no “one-size-fits-all” way of doing business for German companies that applies to all Arab countries that are represented here today.
The economic ties between Germany and the Arab world have developed dramatically during the last decade.
In 2008, the value of goods and services exported from Germany to the Arab world is almost three times higher than at the beginning of the new millennium.
Of course, the financial crisis has had its effects. Last year was not a good year for world trade. But while the overall volume in external trade fell everywhere, the reduction was less strong with the Arab world than with other regions. And all indicators show that this year will be a year of growth.
Arab countries develop long-term strategies to shape modern economies for the 21st century. State-owned funds in the Gulf states aim at diversifying local industry. Their goal is to reduce dependency on volatile prices for natural resources and to preserve the national wealth for future generations.
German companies can be great companions on that path. They are experienced with large infrastructure projects. They are experts in construction, electricity networks and water supply, streets and railroads, to name only a few.
They are experienced with building refineries, developing petrochemicals, steel, aluminium, logistics and tourism. The Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a perfect meeting ground to talk about business and to explore future opportunities.
Our cooperation is not a one-way-street. As an export-oriented nation, Germany needs open markets. And we are open for investments.
Germany has profited from the Euro in the past. We are committed to protect the Euro and to keep it strong. You can be sure that your investments are in good hands. In response to the bitter experience with inflation in the first half of the 20thcentury, Germany has created a culture of stability for our currency so that this will never happen again.
Now we face the challenge to balance the federal budget. There will be cuts in the budget, but we will protect the investments in education and technology. These are investments in our future, in the bright minds of tomorrow.
Germany's economic ties with the Arab world get stronger every day. I believe we need to further strengthen our political ties, too. We cannot afford to be bystanders of globalization. We need to shape globalization.
The global economic and financial crisis has not slowed or even halted the globalization process. To the contrary, the effects of the economic and financial crisis show that globalization advances. Events that take place in distant corners of the globe directly affect us. The same rule applies to the economy and financial affairs, the environment, climate change, energy and food. We can only achieve sustainable solutions together.
There is also a bright light in all the difficulties. We have seen that the world is better prepared than ever to cope with challenges to the global economy.
The International Monetary Fund, the IMF, has contributed to the solution.
The World Trade Organisation with its dispute settlement mechanism helps us stop the impulse to resort to protectionism.
I believe we need more of this culture of cooperation. We need cooperation on the global level, on the level of the United Nations. And we need cooperation between regions. For centuries, the Mediterranean trade has linked Europe with the Arab world. And trade still links us today. The Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the perfect meeting point.
Thank you very much.