Czech diplomats, attachés and other state officials charged with promoting the country’s economic and business interests are meeting in Prague this week for an annual conference. This year’s event, which wraps up on Friday, focuses on recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the export-driven Czech economy especially hard.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš opened the conference of economic diplomats on Monday with a video address to delegates in which he outlined the pandemic’s impact and the many challenges that lie ahead.
Chief among the challenges, he said – noting that exports fell by 4.4 percent last year – is to boost foreign trade and investment levels. Doing that, with coronavirus still hampering business, requires a greater coordination between Czech economic diplomats and ministries, Mr Babiš said, praising the “unity” exhibited thus far.
“We must act together around the world as one strong team promoting Czech national interests. This is the only way we can succeed in the tough international competition of big players. In this context, I appreciate the intensive cooperation between the ministries of foreign affairs and industry and trade, improving thanks to the respective ministers, [Jakub] Kulhánek and [Karel] Havlíček.”
The prime minister went on to note that as intermediaries for domestic businesses, the assembled delegates face a “new challenge” due to the coronavirus pandemic – rising protectionism – a tough but essential nut to crack for a relatively small, export-oriented country like the Czech Republic. Part of the answer, Mr Babiš said, is to help companies gain or expand footholds in foreign markets.
“Supporting Czech companies abroad and attracting foreign investment here is in our national interest, especially in fields with high-added value. We do not only want to be a European assembly plant, but in the spirit of the Czech Republic strategy to be ‘The Country for the Future’. We aim to be a country of ideas, new technologies and innovation to spread our know-how beyond our borders.”
Among the foot soldiers tasked with achieving that is Martin Tlapa, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of development and economic cooperation. Following a panel discussion about restarting the economy, he told Czech Television the main aim this week is to present opportunities to Czech companies abroad and hear from them about the support they require.
“There are two main things. We are presenting research about opportunities in individual countries, called the Strategic Opportunities Map, which stems from comprehensive research by Czech representatives abroad. And we’ll hear from representatives of businesses and various sectors what support they want from the economic diplomats. We’ll also hear plans for reviving tourism, the cultural sector and trade. We hope the result will be a stronger economy.”
It could prove a tall order. Tourism is bound to increase as travel and other restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic loosen. But it is exports that – in a normal year – account for up to 80 percent of Czech GDP. As such, the government says the importance of economic diplomats has rarely been so clear.