On our way to modern diplomacy

No trade mission is the same

Waiting for Mr. Simon Smits, Director-General for Foreign Economic Relations, I find myself leafing through a booklet with the title On our way to Modern Diplomacy, published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several eye-catching phrases make one thing very clear: modernization is a necessity and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with its Senior Board of Management in particular, is thoroughly aware of that. The booklet is rife with innovative ideas and its forward looking implementations. Just as I am getting most eager to hear Mr. Smits’ vision, he walks into his office and takes a seat on the couch. The stunning oilpainting on the wall behind him, is an heirloom from his grandfather. You are on the Board of the Castle de Wittenburg in Wassenaar. Can you elaborate? “I am on the Board of Castle de Wittenburg and this primarily has to do with my present function as Director-General of Foreign Economic Relations, as there is a strong link between the Netherlands Employers Organization, the VNO-NCW, and the Wittenburg. We are in contact on a daily basis. We
exchange ideas and we sit on the DTIB, the Dutch Trade and Investment Board, so as to promote Dutch business.”

Mr.Smits has participated in approximately forty trade missions. Can he share an anecdote about any of these missions? “Maybe it’s no anecdote, but no trade mission is the same. They are all pretty unique. Time and again I am pleasantly surprised by the character and the drive of the Dutch companies that accompany us. I also think the whole Cabinet is very active in travelling abroad. For example, last year the Prime-Minister has visited both China and Indonesia and of course Minister Ploumen travels around the world at least three times a year and I myself do trade missions and what is striking, is the level of quality and innovation of the Dutch companies that accompany us. They are extremely competitive and extremely innovative and I think on the so-called top-sectors that we have identified, obviously in close conjunction with Dutch business and Dutch Captains of Industry, it is
remarkable that there is this combination of both innovative capacity and international outlook. And that is the prerequisite for success on a global scale.”

Our king and queen are really an enormous extra asset to us

Can you name any other sectors besides agriculture and water technology, in which The Netherlands can excel? “Certainly, there is Dutch design, which is increasingly becoming a global sector in which we can put emphasis on what The Netherlands has to offer. And logistics is another one, as well as energy, especially renewables, such as wind energy. For example, in the logistics sector there is the Dutch company Strukton which is now involved in building the metro in Saudi Arabia. If you look at infrastructure and logistics, there are Dutch companies, who are very active in Indonesia, where an ambitious program is underway both to prepare Indonesia for climate change and to tackle the challenges of rising sea
levels and coastal protection and at the the same time talking about urban development, logistics and port development. I think our Dutch companies are now very well introduced in Indonesia, also because of the agreement we have with Indonesia, which was signed by our Prime Minister in November last year.”

The Royal couple travelled on the trade mission to Poland. Does the fact that the King and Queen are included, make the trade mission different from other missions? “Yes, it is different. When the King and Queen make an official visit, they find it very important to highlight the sectors of Dutch industry and what we have to offer and there is certainly a difference in that the King and the Queen, like no other, can open doors and are always received at the very highest level in any country, so that generates extra attention from the political level, from the industrial level, from the press, and that gives the best introduction into a foreign economy that one could wish for. So to answer your question, yes, it certainly does make a difference and I have witnessed this myself. Not only recently in Poland, but also two-and-a-half-years ago, when they were Crown Prince and Princess, on official missions to Vietnam and Brazil. This really is an enormous extra asset to us.”

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