Current Affairs Government officials at odds over country’s export strategy
Two Czech ministers have clashed over how the government should support the country’s exports. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose office has put a lot of effort into promoting Czech businesses abroad, dismissed a new export strategy designed by the Industry and Trade Ministry. In spite of the squabbles, however, the government’s support for exporters is bearing fruit: Czech exports have reached record levels and are a major driving force behind the Czech economic recovery.
Czech firms last year exported goods worth nearly three trillion crowns, or over 160 billion US dollars, which is the highest figure in history. However, exports are mostly driven by large companies as the overall number of exporters is decreasing. The vast majority Czech exports – up to 83 percent – is destined for the EU market which is likewise seen as a potential liability. Several Czech CEOs have criticized the government for the lack of an effective strategy that would diversify the country’s exports.
In response, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg told reporters on Monday his office had put a new strategy in place as soon as he took up his post two years ago.
“In this new model which has been implemented in the last two years, we put much more emphasis on the economy. Some 100 ambassadors and general consuls as well as 160 honorary consuls pursue pro-export policies; it’s practically everyone with some exceptions, such as our embassies in the Vatican and in North Korea. So there are some 400 people within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs working on this.”
For its part, the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry has come up with its own pro-export strategy. It highlights 12 countries including Brazil, China, India, Iraq and the United States as new priority destinations. The ministry plans to encourage more mid-and small-size businesses to export their products, and to increase the number of Czech trade missions.
However, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg dismissed some of the details included in the rival strategy. For example, he refused the idea that staff of trade missions should be given diplomatic passports.
“We cannot hand out diplomatic passports according to our momentary wishes and moods. That’s just not possible. After all, would purpose would it serve? I think that for the most part, this is an issue of conceit.”
The squabble could also be an issue of latent tension between the two rival right-wing coalition parties, with Mr Schwarzenberg, the head of the TOP 09 group, controlling the Foreign Ministry and Civic Democrats in charge of its pro-export rival. The Czech government will discuss the new strategy designed by the Industry and Trade Ministry at its session this week. Meanwhile, Czech exporters hope that common sense will prevail and cabinet members will eventually drop their petty disputes in favour of a comprehensive pro-export strategy that will really work.