Yemen & Germany LIMITED ECONOMIC TIES [Archives:1998/29/Law & Diplomacy]

July 20 1998

Mr. Andreas Wegner, Commercial Attachè at the German Embassy in Sanaa, first arrived in Yemen one week before the civil war, and then returned in August, 1994, to assume his diplomatic post. Over the last four years, he worked very hard to advance Yemeni-German trade relations.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor, talked to Mr. Wegner about his stay in Yemen and the prospects for Yemeni-German relations.
He filed the following interview.
Q: How do you evaluate the current Yemeni-German ties and relations?
A: There is a gap between the political relations which are more than excellent and the trade ties, which are rather limited. The latter need constant assistance and support.
Q: What is the trade balance between our two countries?
A: It is not useful to only focus on the trade balance. Economic ties also extend to more services, training and education.
Of course, Yemen is a limited market and there can only be a limited business potential. Even then, this market is going to have a huge capacity in the future, and is already showing it today.

Q: In your mind, what are the problems facing foreign investors in Yemen?
A: There are two different kinds of problems. One of them is worldwide, which is the violation of the copyright law. I have so far come across two cases where fake trademarks have been used to sell goods in the Yemeni market. I think the violation of trademark regulations is rather new here in Yemen. This is something where there is a need for further assistance on training for customs authorities and staff at the relevant ministries.
The second is a very national problem. It is the security and guarantees provided to investors and foreign partners.
Q: Do trademark violations go to the courts at all in Yemen?
A: One case was raised in court, and the commercial court decided to detain all the fake goods which had been imported. The second case is in the domain of the executive authorities like police, customs, etc.
Q: Are German products popular in Yemen?
A: They are very much appreciated because they are of high quality. But, they are relatively high priced. In general, our products are priced in the medium range. That very much depends on the fluctuations of the US dollar.
With the introduction of the European currency – the Euro, as from January 1st, 1999 – I think we will become more independent from the US dollar. Then we can expand our activities in markets like Yemen’s.
Q: What do you think of the way Yemeni businesses are run?
A: There are Yemeni businessmen who are very active and running their business so well that I’m learning from them. On the other hand, I see a lot of companies with a management structure which needs to be reformed. It is usually a very centralized structure where the owner is sitting on top of the hierarchy. There is no medium management and it is rather a generation problem.
I know a lot of very young businessmen quite often trained in the UK, USA, Germany, Egypt or Jordan. They understand what business is about. As I said it’s a generation problem.
Q: How is the general response of the authorities to your efforts to expand trade relations with Yemen?
A: We have always found open doors and open ears and we have always found good will.
The ministries here are quite different from each other. There are well qualified ministries, and there are many which are lacking in good management.
Procedures take too long and too many officials are involved.
The Chamber of Commerce still has a lot of chances to develop. Nevertheless, I’ve always found open ears and open doors in the bureaucracy.
Q: You are about to leave Yemen. What are your impressions?
A: It is the only Arabic country left in the Arabian Peninsula that has preserved its traditions, culture, and general way of life. If we look back over the last 35 years, Yemen has made a lot of development. You have attained what European countries needed hundreds of years to achieve. This is something that foreigners very often forget.
Q: Have you been able to adapt to Yemen’s social life and culture?
A: There are times when I’m doing sports and I have to stay away from qat, but if I don’t do sports then I chew qat. People say: ” Is he gaining experience through life or through Yemen?” I have learnt a lot being here. There are so many ways of being friendly and expressing your intentions. This is definitely a lesson.
Secondly, the Yemeni commercial market is one of the most difficult markets in the world – not by its volume and not by its quality, but by its tricky nature. You have the rural rules, tribal rules, Islamic rules, and modern commercial rules. These all combine with each other to form a challenge to a foreigner working here. But you have to keep your eyes open, you have to learn and listen. Don’t try to get a message from the outside world, the message is already here.
Q: How do you feel now that you are leaving Yemen?
A: I’m leaving a part of my heart in this country. But I am also taking a little bit of Yemen with me. I hope that Yemen will find its way into the next millennium and preserve its culture at the same time.
On the business side, with the combination of tribal rules and modern commercial rules, I think there is a big chance for Yemen to develop in the future.
Q: Any last comment?
A: I have been appointed in the capital of Mozambique, which is a very different environment. But the commercial data is more or less the same. I’m looking forward to it. That is where I am taking the other half of my heart.