Broadening Horizons

With trade diplomacy becoming ever more important Elizabeth Stewart talks to Georg Karabaczek who heads up a diplomatic association that can open doors for trade and economic attachés

Georg Karabaczek is on top of the world – quite literally. I meet the Austrian Trade Commissioner and recently-appointed Chairman of the Association of Economic Representatives in London (AERL) at the Paramount restaurant – a perfect place for a commercial or economic attaché to dine, with its faultless food, smart decor, attentive service and stupendous views of the City.

From our table at the top of the Centrepoint tower, we can see the Gherkin and Canary Wharf poking through the London gloom – and the Confederation of Business Industry is only a few floors down if you fancy a meeting on the way out.

The AERL has been in business, so to speak, since the 1960s. The world economy may have changed beyond recognition since then, but the basic function of the organisation remains the same: to open doors – and horizons – for trade and economic attachés based in London.

With the world economy in the state it is, economic diplomacy is the new watchword and envoys responsible for trade and economics are under ever more pressure to deliver results. The UK is not short on trade and investment opportunities, but finding the right contacts is not always simple, which is where the AERL comes in.

“Getting access to information, useful contacts and projects is always easier if you come together as a group – especially if you represent a smaller country,” says Karabaczek, who has also worked as trade commissioner in Finland and the Baltic states. “Our companies may be competitors, but if we pool our resources and our information we can have more impact. It’s like the bazaar mentality – we can do better business if we are all in the same place,” he adds.

The AERL hosts up to eight presentations a year, and most recently it used its leverage to land a tour of the 2012 Olympic site with briefings from UKTI, the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Development Agency on opportunities before, during and after the Games (see p13).

AERL members have also visited the London Stock Exchange (where they rang the opening bell); they were guests of the President of the EBRD; and they’ve had a seminar on doing business in the IT sector, to name but a few outings. A meeting with the Lord Mayor of London is scheduled for 15 December.

Getting to know your counterparts in other missions is also important, adds Karabaczeck. The AERL hosts social events where members can gather and trade ideas, such as the summer garden parties and the legendary post-New Year’s ‘drinks lottery’.

Taking over from Shmuel Ben Tovim, the popular departing chairman, Karabaczeck doesn’t plan to tinker with his good formula. The organisation will remain an informal platform with no fees or constitutions, but the new chairman is keen to broaden the membership, which has traditionally been rather Euro-centric, to include the emerging regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. He also plans to launch a website or ‘shop window’ to publicise events and information about the organisation.

An informal committee has been set up to help with the day-to-day administration of the organisation but Karabaczek wants to encourage more input from the members. “As chairman, I would also like to encourage ideas from the membership on the content of the programme, which I would then facilitate,” he says.

And with diplomats of Georg Karabaczek’s calibre in charge, the AERL looks set to continue for another 50 years.

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