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Ambassadors’ commitment to commercial diplomacy

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By Dr. Huub Ruël, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences – Zwolle

Commercial diplomacy is an important part of diplomacy in today’s world and is likely to become even more important the coming years. Many countries around the world are working on restructuring and refocusing their diplomatic missions to be better able to serve business and home country economic interests. The role of ambassadors in effective commercial diplomacy is crucial as he or she is the head of the diplomatic mission and responsible for the performance of an embassy’s commercial diplomats in the host country. Besides that, ambassadors themselves need to act as commercial diplomats as well. There are estimation that ambassadors spent 50-60% of their time on commercial promotional work. But to what extent are ambassadors really committed to commercial diplomacy?

We conducted a study on the role of ambassadors in commercial diplomacy. All foreign ambassadors in the Netherlands were invited to participate and fill out a questionnaire. About one third was willing to participate.

The results showed that foreign ambassadors in the Netherlands on average have 26.6 years of work experience in governmental organizations, and about 2.6 years of work experience in the private sector. On average foreign ambassadors have 6.8 years of experience as ambassador, and have lived in the Netherlands for 3 years. About one third of the ambassadors have a Law degree, 20% holds a degree in International Relations, and 12.5% in Economics.

Foreign ambassadors find commercial diplomacy important (4.5 on a 5-point scale with 1=low, 5=high) and find that their commercial diplomats perform well (4.3 on a 5-point scale with 1=low, 5=high).

In our study, ambassadors express that they spent on average 42% of their time on commercial diplomacy. Their involvement is the highest in business promotion (3.9 on a 5-point scale with 1=low, 5=high), and is far less in the promotion of cooperation in science and technology and intellectual property rights protection.

Interestingly, it appeared that the more years of work experience in the private sector, the more time an ambassador spends on commercial diplomacy. Ambassadors who find commercial diplomacy important tend to be more involved in business promotion our study suggests.

Finally, our study suggests that there is no relationship between the involvement of ambassadors in commercial diplomacy and trade volumes between the ambassadors’ home country and the Netherlands in the period 2008-2012.


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