Geoffrey van Leeuwen, Consul General, Consulate General of the Kingdom of The NetherlandsSince the Dutch East India Company was established in 1602, the Dutch have been major international traders. "Our trade relations with India started nearly 400 years ago when we were trading spices here in 13 different settlements," says Geoffrey van Leeuwen, the new Consul General of the Kingdom of The Netherlands. Today, bilateral relations between India and The Netherlands have expanded to various areas, infrastructure and transport being key areas of focus. van Leeuwen has worked at the Ministry level for the past 16 years, of which he has been in Southeast Asia for nine. His first posting was in Vietnam to handle trade and then alternate postings at the Ministry, and lately postings in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He highlights the potential of Dutch firms to advance India's infrastructure and Indian expertise that can benefit his Kingdom and India in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.What emphasis does The Netherlands place on India as a trade partner?We have targeted four countries in the world—China, India, Brazil and Russia—as major areas for growth. Netherlands is the fourth largest investor in India and India's sixth most important trade partner. India has been one of our oldest markets and roughly about 300 Dutch companies are active here. Most of our big MNCs have been here for over a century—Royal Dutch Shell, Philips, Unilever, AKZO Nobel, DSM, etc—creating new jobs every year.Therefore, India is not a new market and yet we see huge scope for growth. For instance, despite the financial unrest this summer, we sent a big trade mission to India. Headlines in Holland went, "Despite crisis, Dutch companies still optimistic about India" This is because my government and our companies have a long-term approach. We are the sixteen biggest economy in the world and earn 70 per cent of our capital from outside the country. Our activities our diverse: for instance Philips is famous here for household products, but also a global leader in the medical field. Philips has set up a medical factory in Pune and are now exporting from Pune to other markets. In the next 20-30 years, with growth in population and rising income level, India will be, without doubt, the biggest market for many of our companies.What is the current nature of the engagement between India and The Netherlands in the building, construction or infrastructure sector?We have identified nine sectors where the two countries can work together. Of these, one is infrastructure and another, transport. Infrastructure is one of our major strengths. We are India's gateway to Europe as 20 per cent of all Indian exports to Europe enter the country through The Netherlands' ports and airports.One of our proposals is to reclaim land in an environmental-friendly way. We are experts in land reclamation; Dutch firms have developed the Palm Islands in Dubai. The Netherlands is 70 per cent under sea level. You could use it for example to create an airport it in the sea without harming the environment rather than buying up scarce existing land. Another example, a lot of sea links are made of concrete and most companies are able to construct it. But we have another solution: take sand from the sea and create an artificial link by sand. This way, you are using natural products, and you could create recreational land as well. So, we are actively promoting these ideas but it is obviously upto the the Maharashtra government to decide whether they want use our approach or not.What is the current status on the alternate location proposed for the Navi Mumbai Airport?I understand the Navi Mumbai Airport is still on schedule. But simultaneously, I was happy to read, the Maharashtra Government is looking at an alternate plan which involves land reclamation. They have ordered a feasibility study. We think our Dutch plan would be cheaper, environment-friendly, and gives you the possibility of expansion in case the number of passengers and cargo keep increasing as it is expected to do. If the feasibility study is positive and the Maharashtra government is interested, we can go further. But I have to emphasis we are guests in your country and can only propose ideas, ideas to be brought forward in partnership, jointly as governments and together with Indian and Dutch companies. But if it will happen I am sure that it will underline Mumbai's reputation as a forward looking and innovating metropolis.In infrastructure, you also have a long tradition in modernising ports….Yes. For instance, if you visit Rotterdam port in The Netherlands, you will realise there are very few people there. Most of the work is computerised. The computer reads the container and puts it on a truck. The truck is also computerised and without a driver heads towards the next location within the harbour. In India, still a lot is manual. Our automated approach could also work in India: it is faster and it guarantees your port customer speedy and timely delivery. This is one area where we see an opportunity and we have the expertise and knowledge. Another area is obviously dredging: we are leading in dredging technology and capabilities, with companies such as Van Oord and Boskalis, and as mentioned in the field of land-reclamation, also to be used for ports.What are the opportunities for India in The Netherlands?Today, and India is the fifth biggest investor in Holland. Last year, we had 15 new Indian companies investing in Holland. Now, there are more then 200 active Indian companies in The Netherlands. Tata Steel in IJmuiden rules our steel industry, Tata Consultancy Services is very big in Amsterdam and companies like Infosys, Apollo Tyres in Enschede and other major Indian IT companies have been operating here. India's resources for engineers seem limitless, and many of them are already working in Holland for Dutch and Indian companies. In short: we hope and expect that Indian investments will continue to grow and more and more Indian companies will find their way to the Netherlands.Would you like to touch upon any success stories of The Netherlands-based companies operating in India?One major example is Hindustan Unilever. They have been in India for nearly a century and employing tens of thousands of people. Their success in India is such that, today, many consumers think it is an Indian company. It has Anglo-Dutch roots but indeed under Indian management for decades, and a major stakeholder in the Indian economy as well as putting corporate social responsibility at its core: a wonderful corporate member of the Indian society, of which we are proud to be associated with. And above all: a beautiful example of successful Indian-Dutch partnership.A joint economic committee has been recently formed to discuss economic policies between India and The Netherlands. How will this help Indo-Dutch relations?The goal is to strengthen Indo-Dutch relations. This committee is in its nascent stage and we are yet to decide its members and who often it will meet, etc. It will serve as a platform for the Holland and Indian governments to bring certain issues forward, highlight challenges in trade and derive a more systematic approach towards these.What are the challenges in our bilateral relations?Obviously India has a different legal framework and, hence, many Dutch companies find it difficult to adjust. But, we are here to help them and the Indian Government is also supportive. India and Holland are different markets with different backgrounds and history. This is one of the reasons we have formed the joint economic committee—to put these challenges on the agenda and find the best ways to solve them.Are you eyeing any future collaborations or tie-ups with India?We have a Dutch model that works in Holland and does work in other countries as well. But it has to be modified as per the needs and wishes of the Indian market. The only way to do this is through partnership. Partnership has been our strength for many years and we are not here for quick sales. We are here to set up a partnership that grows. We do not have a hit-and-run strategy; we are here to stay in good times and in periods of setbacks.
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