I am sometimes asked how I keep up with developments in Mongolia from afar. I take that question as a compliment on the quality of the analysis we provide.
Twitter has become an invaluable tool for keeping up with Mongolia, especially because many Mongolian politicians and commentators are not only active on social media, but are less guarded in their comments than politicians in Canada, for example. I thus follow a number of prominent individuals and try to scan their tweets regularly. When a specific term/policy comes up repeatedly, I try to find out what this discussion is about to understand what role it might play.
My “Secret Weapon”: B Erdenegarid
But, there are sources beyond social media, of course. One of my “secret weapons” is B Erdenegarid. Mr. Erdenegarid provides a daily summary of articles in the Mongolian press to subscribers in German. His meticulousness and good selection of articles and coverage make this invaluable for knowing what topics and views are showing up in the Mongolian print media.
I can’t recommend his press summary more highly. Mr. Erdenegarid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for subscription inquiries.
Because I rely on his work, I have been meaning to interview him for some time.
Baatar Erdenegarid has been involved in Mongolian trade relations and especially in its relationship with the Germanies since his student days at the Hochschule für Ökonomie (Berlin-Karlshorst) in the early 1960s. Following the completion of his studies (Diplom-Volkswirt Fachrichtung Außenhandel) he held several positions in the Mongolian state’s export business, Mongolexport from 1965 to 1988, eventually rising to deputy chairman (Stellvertretender Vorsitzender). From 1988-1992 he served as the economic counselor at the Mongolian embassy in Belgrade. Since 1992, Mr. Erdenegarid advises numerous private enterprises in Mongolia and abroad focusing on investments and projects in different industries.
Below are his responses to some questions we exchanged by email.
Interview with Erdenegarid
You have been observing Mongolian-German relations for 50 years. Can you divide this period into specific periods. Surely, 1990 was the most significant watershed, but were there other significant divides?
The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Mongolia initiated diplomatic relations on April 13 1950. Even though the Soviet Union supported Mongolia economically, it also pursued highly egoistical policies. Just across the Soviet-Mongolian border six large slaughterhouses were built. The Mongolian government started construction of a meat processing facility in Ulaanbaatar with East German financial and technical help in the middle of the 1950s. This slaughterhouse started operations in 1961. With Bulgarian support a further slaughterhouse was build in Darkhan as well as one in Choibalsan supported by Hungarian aid.
These facilities drastically reduced the export of cattle. Instead of live animals, Mongolia was now able to export meat products and to retain skins, pelts, and innards for further processing. This lead to the construction of a leather industry in the 1960s and 70s. Mongolia thus became a significant exporter of leather, and of leather and sheepskin clothing.
A large carpet factory was set up at the same time and carpets became an export item instead of sheep’s wool. Further carpet factories were set up later in Erdenet and Choibalsan. The gold deposit at Boroo was discovered by German geologists. Gold was produced here and the proceeds were split between Mongolia and the GDR.
From Spring 1965 on Mongolian furs were sold for hard currency in Leipzig and at international fur auctions. This hard currency was desperately needed for the Mongolian economy.
The Federal Republic of Germany took over the GDR embassy and some of the employees. Humboldt University offered Mongolian Studies and continues to do so. This provided Germany with a sufficient number of experts with good knowledge of the Mongolian language and milieu.
Around 30,000 Mongolians were educated at universities, technical and professional schools in East Germany. German was the second-most spoken foreign language after Russian in Mongolia.
As a specialist on Mongolia’s trade you have a good sense of developments of this business over the past ten years. What are particularly interesting developments?
Export opportunities have not been explored to their possible extent. Objective reasons for this are geographic isolation and the relative proximity of the giant Chinese market that sucks everything up.
The extraction of Mongolian natural resources has been financed in past years by aggressive foreign FDI and will be so in the future. With the exception of the economic crisis year of 2009, FDI into Mongolia and the percentage of GDP these represent have been increasing steadily on an annual basis.
The foreign investment law has recently been revised and this might spur more investment again.
At the end of the first half of 2013, overall foreign investments to Mongolia added up to US$17.8 billion.
What role could sea-buckthorn play in Mongolia’s exports?
The Mongolian government is currently pursuing a national program for sea-buckthorn cultivation. Sea-buckthorn products will be exported in significant quantities in coming years.
For your coverage of Mongolia media, you follow the press very closely. Here are a couple of questions about Mongolian print media.
What do you see as a particular strength of the Mongolian press?
There are several newspapers, TV stations, and press agencies that are owned by journalists.
By contrast, where are the press’ weaknesses?
Some mass media are owned by politicians and wealthy businessmen who abuse these outlets to attempt to influence public opinion.
What about the state of economic reporting?
Reporting of economic and business is sufficient.
How good is reporting about developments abroad?
Many Mongolians are fluent in foreign languages and can thus obtain information directly. Bloomberg TV is now reporting whole day and night in Mongolian and English about economic developments around the world.
Many TV stations are now clearly identified with a specific politician/political party. Has this tendency increased among print media as well?
Citizens can elect what to read, listen to and watch. Most mass media have a steady readership.
Do you ever get an itch to write as a journalist yourself when you spend so much time in translating others’ writing?
I follow the maxim: cobbler stay with your lasts. [German proverb to mean that one should do what one knows best how to do.]
What will be the most interesting development in Mongolia in 2014.
I am optimistic about the short-term future. Experts are expecting foreign investments of around US$25billion in the coming 5 years. This is quite significant relative to the US$18billion that have been invested so far. The prioritization of manufacturing and processing industries would be very important.