Dutch farmer believes that young people and civil society will make Ukraine a real European country
On April 6, the Netherlands will vote yes or no to a deeper cooperation between Ukraine and the EU.
The destiny of Europe's biggest nation is potentially in the hands of the citizens of the Netherlands. The future of nearly 46 million people now depends on whether the Dutch decide to support Ukraine's association with the European Union.
This is exactly why, Ukraine Today with the cooperation of Euromaidan Press has launched #DUTCHINUA project. Our goal is to gather the views and opinions of the Dutch businessmen and entrepreneurs who work in Ukraine. As well as provide analysis by the experts from the Netherlands who can assess the influence of the referendum on the future of Ukraine and the E.U. as a whole.
The referendum itself is on-binding and it's more about Euroscepticism in the EU than about Ukraine itself, according to some experts. What exactly does this mean for Dutch businesses and what exactly could be lost if this referendum receives the green light? Joining us here on Ukraine today is Dirck Smits Van Oyen, he's the managing director of ProMarketing.
Tob Bell: You've lived in Ukraine for 16 years now and have been involved with a lot of business between The Netherlands and Ukraine. What opportunities do Dutch investors have in Ukraine, given that there are a lot of opportunities around the world?
Dirck Smits Van Oyen: Ukraine is one of the biggest countries in Europe, it's the size of France with 45 million inhabitants, it's bordering the European Union. It's a country which suffered from stagnation due to Soviet history, which means there's a huge opportunity for development and investment in practically every area you can imagine. Every area needs modernization, whether it's agriculture, machine building, or IT. There are lots of opportunities for cooperation between The Netherlands and Ukraine.
TB: And you're involved mainly in the agrarian sector with your business. What sort of openings are there for Dutch business? The Dutch are known for their technology in the farming sector.
DVO: Ukraine is a country with a tremendous agricultural potential. The agricultural area is the size of 25% of the agricultural area of the entire EU. So it's a huge food producer and that offers lots of opportunities for Dutch companies who are very good at producing machines and technology for the agricultural and food processing sector. If you imagine that Ukraine today has about 5% of all the storage capacity that it needs for all these vegetables, and a lot goes to waste.
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TB: Interesting fact that a lot of this goes to waste because they don't have the storage facilities. And this is where The Netherlands can come in and help.
DVO: Absolutely. We have the best technologies in the world for this type of problems, and Ukraine has a huge potential for this type of companies.
TB: Because land in The Netherlands is very expensive, isn't it? It's very small and you have to be efficient if you're farming in The Netherlands.
DVO: Yes, we've really created an art out of getting the maximum production out of every square meter of land, which means we have very efficient equipment and technologies that could be of tremendous good use in Ukraine. And I see it in my environment: there is a huge interest and demand for this typeof machinery, I see it in other areas as well. And Ukraine is ready to invest in that and purchase this from Dutch medium and small enterprises.
TB: And there's a lot of openings as well with this Association Agreement. I think a lot of people in The Netherlands think that if this agreement goes ahead, then Ukraine is instantly in the European Union. But it's actually more about free trade.
DVO: I think this Association Agreement is not about EU membership at all. It's about taking away barriers for both sides to do business with each other. And there can be very little objection against taking away barriers, bringing them to European and Dutch level, which is very beneficial for everybody in this region, the EU, and Ukraine.
TB: And it's not just this agrarian sector as well, there's other sectors that Dutch investors could potentially take advantage as well. We were talking about food safety as well, safety standards need to go up if Ukraine wants to export to the EU. This is where the Dutch can help as well.
DVO: Absolutely, it's in every economical sector that you can find examples where cooperation between Ukraine and The Netherlands has a huge potential to develop and to grow and create jobs in Holland and create business and economic opportunities.
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TB: When you speak to your colleagues in The Netherlands, what do they know in Ukraine? From my experience of speaking with my Dutch friends, they know very little about what's happening in the country. Is this the same with you?
DVO: In general, people know very little about Ukraine. What you read and hear in the media about Ukraine is usually not very positive.
TB: What sort of topics do they usually cover in the newspapers?
DVO: Usually it's some sort of disaster or revolution or corruption.
TB: We have the Dutch paintings as well recently
DVO: It's always negative stories. Very rarely does Ukraine come in the news with positive stories, which are numerous. The only time I really remember that happening was with Euro-2012. All the countries were participating in the football championship in Ukraine and there was an immensely positive and good feeling about Ukraine with all the foreigners that came here and took it back home. But it's a rare example. Ukraine is relatively far away mentally from people in Holland, while physically it's not so far. It's just across some Central European countries, it's bordering Europe, it's one and a half day driving from Rotterdam. So it is close but at the same time people don't know that it's a country the size of France, with 45 million inhabitants, extremely nice people, well educated, who are very determined and positively working to modernize their country and to make it a very valuable member of the European family of nations.
TB: You've been in Ukraine for 16 years now working not just in this company, but in other companies as well. What sort of improvements would you like to see from Ukrainian government and different authorities to help businesses with importing products into Ukraine itself?
DVO: The most famous examples is that everybody talks about. For the 16 years that I've been living here I've already seen immense improvements. If I compare Ukraine today with Ukraine 16 years ago, it's already a different country. And due to the recent events, the Euromaidan revolution, all these changes are only accelerating. Obviously, a lot needs to be done. First of all, to reduce bureaucracy. It's being reduced, but it has to go a lot further to make it easier.
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TB: Is it an import bureaucracy?
DVO: It's a bureaucracy on every level. Whether you want to set up a business here, run a business here, import stuff. It's already getting much better, but it needs to be improved much further. Also, because bureaucracy invites corruption. It's very cumbersome and difficult to respect all the laws, rules, and regulations that are still left over in Ukraine in the Soviet Union. For a lot of companies it's easier to pay a bribe and get on with business.
TB: And some of the laws are still from the Soviet Union, they haven't been changed.
DVO: Yes, and the mentality of the civil servants in the Ministries are still very much unchanged versus the Soviet times. That needs to be swept clean. That's where the Association Agreement also comes in. Because due to the stronger cooperation between European institutions and Ukrainian institutions, Ukraine gets an opportunity to modernize its civil servants and all its regulations and laws that affect doing business in Ukraine. The potential is huge. If you look at what other Central European countries have achieved in terms of economic growth and attracting investment after they modernized their rule and regulations. It's tremendous. Ukraine is not a small country. It's 45 million inhabitants. It's huge.
TB: Can you tell a bit more about your business in Ukraine? What do you do now?
DVO: My company does several things: We do actual farming, we have a farm in West Ukraine, we grow grains and oil seeds, and we also import equipment for the food processing industry, it's an industry that I know very well. I know there's a huge demand in Ukraine especially with small and medium enterprises especially to invest in the food processing sector, so we import machines from Holland and sell and service them in Ukraine.
TB: Ultimately, it would be good if Ukrainian firms could become self-sufficient, and this is where The Netherlands could help. We mentioned before these greenhouses as well.
DVO: Ukraine is still importing a lot of vegetables from other countries. But it has the largest agricultural potential of practically every country on this planet. It's just a matter of processing, doing it well, building the logistic chains which preserve the products and allow storing them over a longer period of time, and being able to offer it in good quality to the consumer.
TB: And just one final question: Could you sum up your expectations? What do you think is going to happen over the next 5-10 years in Ukraine?
DVO: I'm extremely optimistic about Ukraine. I've seen the strength of civil society and the desire to change the country for the better. This desire was strong enough to break the resistance that existed in political elites and perhaps still exists, in some political elites. And that will drive change. Young people, civil society will drive change and make Ukraine a real European country. I'm proud to be here as a Dutch businessman.
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