“I hoped that after two years of Corona we would now find calmer waters,” admits Ulrich Ackermann. It turned out differently. His foreign trade department at the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) is particularly busy at the moment. Currently, the main issues are the sanctions against Russia and their implications, including for trade with China. Ackermann and his team are available to the more than 3,400 member companies whenever they have questions about customs duties, export regulations or the general conditions on foreign markets.
“The bottom line is that we are a kind of consulting firm for our members in all matters relating to exports and foreign trade,” says Ackermann, describing his role. And there is no shortage of inquiries. The 63-year-old just received a call from a member company that was urgently looking for a new steel supplier, claiming that the market had been swept clean. “Who knows that 20 percent of the steel slabs processed in Western Europe come from Russia and Ukraine?” asks Ackermann. For laymen: A slab is a cast, elongated block.
Above all, many medium-sized companies in the industry value the expertise of the VDMA. 15 experts for all regions of the world and all relevant topics are working in its department in Frankfurt am Main. They receive additional support from the Berlin branch and the VDMA’s foreign offices, including two in China. The country is extremely important for the industry; in 2020, German companies supplied mechanical engineering products worth more than €18 billion to it. Sanctions against China would have an enormous impact.
Stability as the foundation for free trade and prosperity
That is why Ackermann looks with concern at Xi Jinping’s behavior toward Putin, but also at the relationship with Taiwan. “Free trade just requires stable framework conditions,” says the Frankfurt native. Markets have fascinated him for decades. In 1986, Ackermann wrote his diploma thesis in economics about a possible liberalization of European air traffic. Immediately afterward, he joined the VDMA, where he worked on the then-emerging European single market. Since 2005, he has been steering the foreign trade department through uncertain times.
Uncertainty also currently dominates the Chinese market. Due to the strict Covid entry rules, small and medium-sized companies, in particular, are restricted in their business, he says. “A lot of people are telling us we’re losing some access to the market right now,” he reveals. “There’s nothing like really being on the ground.” He is also eager to go back to China soon. He has been saving the scenic regions so far, he says. “I’ve never been to China as a tourist, but I know the industrial areas very well,” he says with a smile. Paul Meerkamp