“We share a lot of values”

Active in all areas of economic life

Susanne Welter, head of economic and science affairs at the German Embassy in Japan


December 2019  The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photo by Benjamin Parks

With more than 30 years at Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, Susanne Welter has had a number of diverse postings, including to countries in Africa, Europe and Central Asia. Much of her career has been focused on security policy and UN affairs. She spent the past nine years in the UN Department in Berlin, first as head of the anti-terrorism section and then overseeing the section responsible for chemical and biological weapons issues. Previously, Welter was posted to Moscow (2007–2010) where she was deputy head of the embassy’s economics section. She arrived in Japan in August to take up her post as head of economic and science affairs at the German Embassy in Japan.

Could you tell me about some of the recent high-level visits from Germany?

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was here for the enthronement of the new emperor, and he also had the opportunity to meet stakeholders here in Japan, including German business associations. He exchanged views on topics such as Society 5.0, and he is very interested in greater economic cooperation with Japan. I think that, on the Japanese side, his visit was highly appreciated. It was like the icing on the cake because Chancellor Angela Merkel visited in February and Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas has come twice this year.

And there’s more than just the big visits of federal ministers: the number of high-ranking German delegates coming with business delegations has increased significantly over the past two years. We’ve had the deputy ministers of economics of the federal states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hesse come with business delegations, and the lord mayors of Hamburg and Essen also came with large delegations. They are all looking to broaden cooperation.

In the case of Essen, it has a longstanding cooperation with Fukushima Prefecture, which started after the catastrophe of 2011. They are concentrating on renewable energies, as well as medical technology, including technology for assisting the handicapped. Essen University is part of this cooperation, and it is working with clinics in Koriyama on medical research; cancer research is a big topic.

We hear in a lot of discussions that Germany’s relationship with Japan is not based merely on profit-oriented areas — it’s so much more than that. We share a lot of values, as well as political goals. Therefore, Japan’s importance as one of our closest partners is further increasing, and not only in East Asia. Internationally, we are looking to cooperate more closely in order to strengthen multilateralism and the rules-based order. Bilaterally, we aim to learn from each other regarding the domestic challenges we are both facing, such as demographic change and digitisation.

What are some events you’ve been involved with over the past few months?

There was one big trade fair, Gamescom, where we had a delegation of German companies that are developing computer games. There was also a two-day bilateral forum on environment
and energy that was headed by both economy ministries, which included a lot of expert panels and discussions on renewable energies and how to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Then there was a major biotechnology fair in Yokohama on cooperation in life sciences and biology where, for example, the German federal state of Saxony was very active.

We had a delegation from the German music industry that is very interested in promoting German musicians, but they were also very interested in the possibilities of selling Japanese and South Korean pop music to a European audience. Companies from all areas of economic life are coming to Japan.



What is the current level of trade between Germany and Japan?

We have had a consistently growing level of trade for the past couple of years. Our exports to Japan in 2018 were around €20 billion. We’re seeing a lot of growth right now in the areas of automotive; machinery and machine parts, especially in the area of digital appliances; additive manufacturing; medical technology; renewable energy; and food and beverages — particularly German wine. There, the EPA has helped quite a lot because, of course, the tariffs have been abolished and it’s easier for producers of typical German food and beverages to get into the Japanese market. White wine is very popular in Japan, and the German winemakers are starting to catch up with French and Italian wines.

There are a lot of German companies that have created special demand for their products here. A very simple example is all the food particular to the Christmas season, such as stollen. There’s also
, which is a spicy cookie that comes in endless varieties.

What is the Asia–Pacific Conference that’s planned for October 2020 and how important is it for German businesses?

It’s the biggest event for German companies active in the Asia–Pacific region. It’s held every two years somewhere in Asia, and the German Asia–Pacific Trade Association has chosen Tokyo to host the event next year. It started in Tokyo in 1986 and this will be the third time the city will hold the conference. The German minister for economic affairs is the host for the German side, and he will invite quite a few of his counter-parts from the region. The second host is the chairman of the German Asia–Pacific Business Association, Mr Joe Kaeser, who is CEO of Siemens.

The programme will be a mixture of events for both the government side and the business side. Looking at past events, we are hoping for about 1,000 participants from Germany and from the region. We are also quite confident that there will be very high-ranking participation from the host country — initial reactions have shown that the Japanese government is very interested in cooperating. A website for registration applications will go live in January.

The conference will be a mixture of conference events and, in the margins, a lot of networking events, divided into different areas of industry: if you’re from the automotive sector, you will find your counterparts from Asia at, for example, a business breakfast, or you will find those working in artificial intelligence at another one. So, it should be attractive to a broad range of businesses.

“German companies … have created special demand for their products here”