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008. Trade Delegations 3.0, small size increasingly does matter

Trade delegations are of all times, whether it were the VOC ships to the East in the 17th century, or the upcoming trade delegation by our minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation to Turkey in 2014. This blog is about the Dutch economy and the importance of trade delegations, including the growing number of smaller Dutch missions coming to Turkey.

Without trade and foreign investments the Netherlands would never have become the richest country in the world (pro capita), a position it held for over two centuries, from 1600-1800. Not all Dutch people are aware of this, but just look at our houses and paintings. We Dutch invested our capital well…

Much we can contribute to our Dutch entrepreneurial spirit (very similar to the Turkish spirit by the way). We sent trade delegations to the Baltics, the East, the West, Levant, basically to all parts of the known world. The VOC was the first multinational company in the world and its shares were traded on the first stock exchange in the world, in Amsterdam of course.

In 1610 the then Republic of the United Provinces was invited by the Ottoman Sultan to establish an Embassy in Istanbul. According to his instructions Haga, the Ambassador designated who arrived in Istanbul in 1612, had to free Christian slaves and conclude a favorable economic arrangement with the Ottoman Empire. International law and economy, human rights and economic diplomacy, much of our foreign policy has comfortingly remained the same over the past 402 years.

The many paintings, charts and maps which used to hang on the walls of the Chamber of Levantine Trade in Amsterdam and nowadays are displayed in Dutch museums, give a vivid impression of the bilateral relations in those early days.

After Haga, who took three months to reach Istanbul, trade delegations have remained important for our bilateral economic relations. They appear in many forms. One is the big and impressive delegations as part of a Royal visit, but by definition these only can take place every few years.

Delegations led by our Prime Minister Rutte or one of the members of the cabinet remain essential as well; the present government has reconfirmed the importance of ministerial economic delegations, especially to those countries where the public sector plays a big role in the economy.

King’s Commissioners, mayors and other dignitaries, also often lead business groups and will continue to do so. I have been diplomat for 30 years now and know how to appreciate the dynamics these visits generate.

However, over the past years I see a growing trend in favor of small and focused trade delegations, at times only servicing a few Dutch companies at the same time. These smaller delegations do not reach the headlines, but are in my opinion increasingly essential for our economic relations, definitely so in the case of Turkey. Weekly such delegations are organized by consultants, banks, business organizations and others that prepare business visits for their clients. Their programs in general consist of matchmaking meetings and joint-events with strong sector emphasis.

Surveys indicate that companies (mainly SME’s) highly value these types of individualized assistance and tailor made, personal and intense programs. I therefor very much welcome this trend as SME’s need to and can play a substantial role in the improvement of the trade relations between the Netherlands and Turkey.

Our trade relations with Turkey are unfortunately much less than their potential warrants. Concerning export, we just belong to the first 20 partners of Turkey and our export share evens keeps going down, in 2013 to 1.3% only, while worldwide the Dutch export share is 3%. No need at all for this far too low 1.3%. There are many daily flights between our two countries and we have each other a lot to offer.

All these new, small scale, professional and efficient trade delegations will in my opinion be one of the more important instruments to improve the trade relations between our two countries.

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