MOSCOW, October 26 (IA-Forum) - Russian-Dutch relations are characterized by dynamic development that takes the form of a close and extensive partnership. The state visit to Russia of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin in June 2001 marked an important milestone in bilateral relations, especially given that there had been no contacts at head-of-state level between the two countries over the entire twentieth century.
The visit was the first by a Dutch monarch to Russia in the entire history of bilateral relations between the two countries. The visit saw the signing of the first Joint Action Programme for 2001-2003 - that programme reflected the new quality of Russian-Dutch relations and that proved itself an effective instrument in diversifying bilateral ties in a wide range of areas. Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Belkenende visited St Petersburg in May 2003, to take part in the Russian-European Union summit and the events celebrating the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg’s founding.
Putin took part in the Russian-European Union summit in The Hague in Nov. 2004, and also had a meeting with Queen Beatrix. Since then a lot has significantly changed in trade and economic ties and Russian-Dutch investment cooperation continues its positive development.
More than 200 Dutch companies have opened offices in Russia and, according to the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry, and more than 800 companies in Russia have a share of Dutch capital. The number of small and medium-sized businesses with Dutch capital is increasing on the Russian market.
IA-Forum: What are your country’s main priorities and how these feature in your diplomatic work?
Ambassador Jan-Paul Dirkse: Developing and strengthening the economic relations between the Netherlands and Russia is our top priority. The cooperation between the Netherlands and Russia is relevant for both Dutch and Russian companies, because it enables them to find new business opportunities abroad.
The impressive growth of bilateral trade between Russia and the Netherlands shows that the Russian and Dutch entrepreneurs are fully aware of the opportunities: the Russian export to the Netherlands has more than doubled since 2003 to nearly 11 billion euros and the Dutch export to Russia has almost doubled since 2003 to 5.4 billion euros.
Having said this, our economic relations are also aimed towards cooperation in the field of relevant economic policies, such as road and air transport. In addition to bilateral cooperation, the Netherlands also cooperates with Russia via multilateral organizations, for instance, European Union or World Trade Organization.
Russia has a huge development potential in agriculture and agribusiness. Dutch institutions and companies are sought after as suppliers and partners in development. The Netherlands is the third largest exporter of agricultural produce world wide with a total value of 50 billion euros. And more than 20 percent of Dutch annual exports to Russia concern agricultural and food items. What is more, Dutch investments in this sector are growing because of companies such as Heineken beer, Unilever food, Campina dairy and Wilarus livestock stable equipment.
But there is more in the Russian Dutch relationship than trade. For centuries, the two countries have strong ties of friendship. Already in the seventeenth century, the Russian czar Peter the Great visited the Netherlands. And in the nineteenth century, a Russian princess married to the Dutch Crown Prince William II. Her name was Anna Paulowna. She later became Queen of the Netherlands. The friendship of the two countries has lead to a state visit of Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands to Russia. And in 2005 the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, visited the Netherlands.
IA Forum: What role Russia is playing in your country’s economy and concretely say why those sectors are important for them? How are the people of the Netherlands benefiting from these?
Ambassador Dirkse: In 2006, the Netherlands was Russia’s second trade and investment partner. Russia plays a very important role in the Dutch economy, primarily because Russia exports oil and gas to the Netherlands. And in 2005 the Dutch contribution in investments in Russia was 32 percent.
But there is more: Russia also investments in the Dutch economy, either by starting up representations or taking over Dutch companies. For example, Amtel/Vredestein, a producer of tires, is now owned by a Russian company. These activities result in additional employment and tax incomes in The Netherlands. Important reasons for Russian companies setting up a branch in The Netherlands are the high level of financial and legal services available and the attractive tax climate for enterprises in the Netherlands.
Again, the agricultural sector is of paramount importance in the Russia-Dutch relations. If we disregard the EU for a moment, Russia is the Netherlands second largest trading partner in agribusiness, after the United States. If the present growth rate sustains, within a few years Russia will be the most important partner in trade and possibly in new investments as well.
What is more, a lot of international agricultural produce for the Russian market pass through and are processed in the Netherlands (Rotterdam acts as a deep seaport for Russia).
IA Forum: How would you explain to your prospective businessmen that Russia’s policies are favourable for foreign investment and the economy is healthy?
Ambassador Dirkse: Russia’s economy has developed very positively in recent years, mainly due to the healthy macro-economic policy of the country in combination with the high oil- and gas revenues. Because of the positive economic development and the natural resources of Russia, there are many very interesting investment opportunities, not only for foreign energy-companies like Shell, but also for foreign companies active in consumer markets, the building sector, machinery and equipment, as well as foreign companies providing high quality services in different fields.
As for agribusiness, Minister Alexey Gordeyev is an active promoter of Russian interests. At the start of the priority projects for dairy and pig farming in 2005 he visited the Netherlands twice. First during an agricultural exhibition and later on together with President Putin, second on his initiative an agribusiness conference was organised.
As said before Russian agriculture and agribusiness have a huge development potential. A solid policy, transparent and effective public institutions as well as cooperation among major business players are key factors for success. We regularly conduct market and sector scans for Dutch companies and business sectors. In October a strategic agribusiness study will be presented and discussed in a business conference in the Netherlands.
IA Forum: Do Russian investors and businessmen also find the Netherlands attractive?
Ambassador Dirkse: Of course yes, the Russian investments in the Netherlands are growing. The number of Russian companies opening an office in the Netherlands is growing, partly because of the high level of financial and legal services and the attractive tax climate for enterprises in the Netherlands. In addition to these foreign offices, Russian takeovers of Dutch companies have also taken place in the past.
IA Forum: What about the tourism potentials of the Netherlands and how Russians are taking advantage of them?
Ambassador Dirkse: The Netherlands is a beautiful country and a wonderful country to go on a holiday. It is very much worth a visit, not only because it has a rich cultural heritage and beautiful museums, but also because it is a country with much modern architecture and design. I am happy so many Russians travel to the Netherlands, nowadays. In fact, the number of Russians traveling to the Netherlands has increased sharply: my embassy issued 24 thousand visas in 2004, 28 thousand in 2005 and 35 thousand in 2006. And 2007 will again be a record-breaker!
The Netherlands embassy constantly tries to improve visa procedure to facilitate the traveling of Russian tourists and business people to the Netherlands.
IA Forum: I think that the Netherlands has, to some extent, educational/cultural relations with the then Soviet Union (now Russia). How is this aspect developing between the two countries?
Ambassador Dirkse: Russia and the Netherlands have intensive exchange of contact in the field of culture, education and science. In the field of culture the cooperation between museums is prominent: various museums in the Netherlands organize regularly expositions regarding art object from Russia. Just to give you a few examples: since two years the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg has a dependence museum in Amsterdam, which draws many art lovers to Amsterdam.
And a few years ago, many visitors to the Groninger Museum admired works by the Russian artist, Ilya Repin. What is more, art festivals are organized annually in Russia with active participation of Netherlands artists and orchestra’s. There is active support of cultural institutes in the Netherlands for educational purposes in Russia, through master classes and workshops in the fields of music and modern dance.
In the field of education, the ties between the Netherlands and Russia have strengthened. The Netherlands is setting up a Netherlands Education Support Office (NESO) in Moscow. The aim is to promote Dutch higher education and to inform Russian students about studying in the Netherlands. It is also meant to enhance the cooperation between Dutch and Russian universities. Many Russians are well educated and Dutch universities.
IA Forum: Now, tell us about your own assessment of the political and economic changes in Russia and also how your country’s politicians think of contemporary Russia?
Ambassador Dirkse: Russia is changing rapidly. The Russian government has already realized many changes in legislations, institutions and economic policies which have positively influenced the economic development of Russia. However, a lot of work remains still to be done in order to stimulate further development of the Russian economy, e.g. reducing bureaucracy or cutting ‘red tape’ further modernization and liberalization of the Russian economy, stimulate the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, further diversification of the Russian economy and further strengthening of the investment climate (including rule of law).
Referring to your question about the political changes, it is clear that Russia, being an old nation, is quite new as a state. As the Berlin Wall tumbled a new country had to be established. This is a major achievement. And recent history shows tremendous changes for the better in Russia compared to the Soviet Union. Recent trends however point to a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and democratic institutions in Russia.
Dutch politicians have shown much interest in Russia especially as this year the State Duma will be elected and next year the president of the Russian Federation, everyone’s attention will be fixed on Russia.
IA Forum: How is the Dutch diaspora like here and what are the attitudes towards Dutch people here?
Ambassador Dirkse: The number of Dutch enterprises active on the Russian market is growing; nowadays about 150 Dutch companies have opened a representation (ranging from representative offices till production plants) in Moscow and its surroundings. The number of Dutch living in Russia is also growing, nowadays there are about 1000 Dutch living in the country; the main concentrations are in Moscow, St. Petersburg and in Sakhalin where oil fields are located.
In general, the attitude of Russians towards Dutch people is positive. First and foremost because Russians are aware of the historic visit of Peter the Great of the Netherlands and the knowledge he gained during that visit. In addition, because Dutch businessmen having a reputation being reliable and good business partners, selling high quality and technologically advanced products and services.
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