Czech-Saudi trade relations under the spotlight

Photo: fishtik / freeimages

According to some media reports, Czech trade relations with Saudi Arabia have hit a hitch because of the Czech head of state’s previous remarks. But the reports have been dismissed as distorted by the Czech prime minister and the recent state of bilateral trade suggests a surge in two-way trade.

Photo: fishtik / freeimages
A fair bit of confusion appears to be circulating about the state of Czech-Saudi Arabian trade relations. The original source of confusion was an article in the Arabic daily Al-Watan which reported that the oil rich kingdom had frozen the activities of the trade promoting Czech-Saudi Business Forum in response to President Miloš Zeman’s allegedly offensive remarks about Moslems. The move, according to the paper, was commanded by the Saudi ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, himself.

The news brought a fast response from Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. He said that the press reports were inaccurate and did not reflect the current state of bilateral relations and that Prague is seeking to boost trade ties with Saudi Arabia.

And the vice president of the Czech-Saudi Chamber of Commerce Jakub Koudela told the news server that president Zeman’s comments, apparently those of four years ago when he described Islam as an aggressive and intolerant religion, had for the most part been dealt with and explained long ago. The chamber was created in September 2014 to overcome business barriers.

Extracts from an interview with Zeman were printed in Monday’s edition of the English-language Saudi Gazette. There, the Czech head of state said that Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic could cooperate to counter the threat of terrorism and extremism and boost business and cultural relations. Zeman pointed out that a major exhibition of Moslem art is being prepared in Prague and that the Czech Republic understands and respects Moslem culture. On the face of it, there was nothing to cause particular offense.

Some analysts suggest the flurry over Czech relations may have been sparked by some trade spat involving some specific companies or contracts. These can easily escalate in the kingdom into political and even diplomatic conflicts, it is added.

Czech-Saudi bilateral trade relations look fairly positive from the statistics alone. What’s more, partly because the Czech Republic is now a major buyer of Saudi oil, the balance is heavily weighted in the Czech Republic’s favour. In 2013 Czech exports to Saudi Arabia were worth 7.01 billion crowns with imports from Saudi Arabia totaling 291 million crowns. Last year, Czech exports surged by more than a third year-on-year to 10.8 billion crowns. Goods in the opposite direction, mostly polymers, ethylene, and chemicals, amounted to 667.5 million crowns. Vehicles, machinery, manufactured goods, and data processing equipment make up the lion’s share of the Czech exports.