Trade minister of the Netherlands pushes Dutch agri companies to come to Ukraine
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.
Ahead of the referendum, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen visited Ukraine on an official visit on March 15-17. She discusses with Ukraine Today the outcome of the trip as well as the Dutch-Ukrainian relationship.
Volodymyr Solohub: Madam Minister, you have come in an official trip to Kyiv, you are talking to the government representatives, you are talking to the businesses. What is your initial feedback? What is the current state of the trade regulation between Ukraine and the Netherlands?
Lilianne Ploumen: We have warm and good relations, but if you look at volumes there is room for a lot of improvement. The Netherlands is the second largest investor in Ukraine, but if you look at the trade volume both import and export, I think, we could do much better. Specifically in a field of agriculture, where Ukraine is the "Food basket" of the world potentially, the Netherland is second largest export of agricultural goods and services. We have not been living up to the fullest potential of a joint mission to feed the world.
V.S.: A lot of Dutch companies in agricultural sector are working here, they are bringing the expertise, the technology, which the Netherlands have, to Ukrainian businesses, to Ukrainian farmers. Do you see potential to further development and for the cooperation between the businesses and between two countries?
L.P.: I definitely see that. Maybe it is even more important, that a business sector sees many opportunities. I brought with me a mission from the Netherlands, about thirty companies mainly in area of agriculture, and they would not have joined me if they wouldn't have seen many opportunities. There are the Dutch firms, we, for example visited Zeelandia, which is a well known company in the Netherlands - and in food, in dairy, in horticulture there are a lot opportunities I would suggest we can further explore, and obviously the Association Agreement helps us smoothen the procedures to make a trade between two countries easier.
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V.S.: Talking about of the Association Agreement... A part of association agreement - the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the E.U. and Ukraine - has come into on January 1, 2016. But the E.U. has opened borders for Ukrainian companies quite some time ago. What is the initial feedback which the Dutch companies have, in light of implementation of this Free Trade Area?
L.P.: Many Dutch companies are yet to explore what they can offer to them, but what we heard today is that looking at the agriculture reforms that has been taking place, the Dutch businesses are clearly seeing progress compared with a few years ago and what they specifically mention, of course, is that a battle against corruption is very important but also doing away with bureaucratic procedures that were not really adding value. So they are really seeing some progress but obviously for the volumes to catch up, we need a bit more time.
V.S.: Ukrainian people, Ukraine's Western partners are pressing the government for reforms, and pressing for these reforms to take place much faster, much quicker, because it has been two years since the EuroMaidan revolution, when everything changed in the country, yet very few people have seen these reforms taking place as fast as people would like to see. When you are talking to the government officials, and to the ministers, are you conveying the same message, are you conveying that the Western partners, the Dutch people, the Dutch businesses would like to see reforms taking place faster?
L.P.: Of course, we have been discussing this issue and I have a great admiration for the reforms that have already taken place. One/third of the banks that were not functioning properly have been liquidated, the subsidiries that were involved in corruption, those have been done away with. So a lot things have happened and all of us, including my Ukrainian colleague Ministers, would like to see things happening faster but it also has to be done in a proper way. It has to follow the democratic procedures, the parliament say "yes" to it, people have to understand why this is better for Ukraine. So yes, we are pushing and we are seeing progress.
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V.S: But what are you hearing from Ukraine's government officials, when you are pushing for these reformes?
L.P.: When I talk to the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Jaresko, who has been very incremental, I think, in making sure that reforms in the financial sector are happening but also that the financial situation of Ukraine has improved. She also acknowledges that we are not yet there. On the other hand, Ukrainian people had had two difficult years, because the reforms also sometimes mean that first it has to become more difficult before it becomes easier. And, of course, as politicians we also want people to understand why this is necessary. And it again has also its impact on the pace of the reforms, but reforms are needed, and I am very pleased to hear that from my Ukrainian colleagues too.
V.S.: Madam Minister, what are the messages which you are bringing back to the Netherlands to the Hague which will be discussed with your fellow ministers, with Prime Minister as a result of your trip to Ukraine ?
L.P.: I would say, three things basically. One, there are a lot of opportunities for the Netherlands to do business with Ukraine and also for us, we have a very open economy, we are very trade-oriented, so it's in our interest to improve trade relations with Ukraine. My second issue would be, that Ukraine has gone through some major reforms; the fight against corruption is a very hard fight and it's not finished yet, but very good measures and institutions have been put in place. And the third is that Ukrainian people tell me, they feel at home with Wuropean values and they like to see more cooperation between Europe and Ukraine.
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V.S.: In less than a month there will be a referendum in The Netherlands on whether the Dutch people would like the Dutch government to ratify the E.U. Association Agreement with Ukraine. So far, the recent polls have not been showing that the majority is in favor of that ratification. Is there any feeling among the Dutch people that bringing Ukraine closer to Europe is bringing yet another problem to the European family?
L.P.: There are a lot of debate now in the Netherlands about this agreement, which, I think, is very good, because this is the agreement not between governments, it is the agreement that should be between people. And for us I think it's important to show that this agreement is official to Ukraine and to the Netherlands. Dutch businesses are really mentioning the progress - they see in terms of procedures that we don't need anymore, if we have the agreement, which saves them a lot of money. Ukraine is a county on the borders of Europe and I will tell the Dutch people that specially the young Ukrainians tell me they fought for this at Maidan Square, they want to make their own decisions for their own country and that they feel that this agreement helps them do it. That message - of strong people in Ukraine calling for more democracy - I would suggest that we would really need to embrace. Because for us too democracy is something that we cherish and we really would like Ukrainian people to live up to the fullest democratic potential. And they tell me, the young people, that being close to Europe helps them do that.
V.S.: Do you hope that these messages will help persuade more Dutch citizens to come on April 6 and vote 'yes'?
L.P.: I will go and vote and obviously I will vote 'yes', and I do hope that the young people in the Netherlands, the business community in the Netherlands really conveyed a message that this agreement is good for the Netherlands, good for Ukraine. It will boost rate, it will boost friendship between people.
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