Bilateral Relations Based on Profound Cooperation

H.E. Maryem van den Heuvel, Dutch Ambassador to Belgium
H.E. Maryem van den Heuvel, Dutch Ambassador to Belgium

Belgium is the Netherlands’s most important trading partner, behind Germany. For Dutch entrepreneurs, Belgium is close by and provides easy access, which makes it a very interesting destination to expand partnerships.In 2016, the total value of Dutch exports to Belgium was€44 billion and import from Belgium to the Netherlands was €37 billion. Trade between the two nations consists mainly of fossil fuels, machines, chemical products, vehicles, car components and agro-foods.

The Dutch Ambassador to Belgium Maryem van den Heuvel, who has been posted in Belgium since 2015, discusses the bilateral relations and the cooperation between the two countries. She is delighted to share the fact that around 20 MOU’s were signed during the recent State visit of the King and Queen of the Belgians and Their delegation to the Netherlands. The State visit celebrated and deepened the economic ties between the two countries. “The relationship between the Netherlands and Belgium is of great importance to both nations, and is one of profound cooperation”, Her Excellency states. “We are collaborating in many ways. The intergovernmental Thalassa summit between Belgium and the Netherlands is an excellent illustration of the existing close ties between the two countries and aims to strengthen the cross-border cooperation even further. Additionally, at last year’s biannual conference between Flanders and the Netherlands, pertinent issues of mobility and public works were discussed, such as the railway connection between Flanders, the Netherlands and Germany (the iron Rhine)”, she adds.

Moreover, there is also cooperation on federal level between the two countries, working together to combat terrorism, including close cooperation in the areas of defence, security energy, and employment. The agreement between Belgium and the Netherlands represents a breakthrough in the field of defence cooperation in the European Union. Both sides believe that intense cooperation in the fields of defence and safety will raise efficiency. Furthermore, infrastructure and waterway systems are being handled jointly to the benefit of both, such as the building of locks in the canals at Ternat and Terneuzen.Another cooperation program involves the joint purchase of frigates.

Additionally, there is also close cooperation with Wallonia, Brussels and the German speaking region. Infrastructure building is extremely important for both countries. The Ambassador says, “If we can manage to connect our countries better then we will improve the competitive edge for both sides”. There is also cooperation between the ports of Rotterdam (Europe’s largest seaport) and Antwerp, where they jointly negotiate cooperation with other large ports in the world. Currently, there is discussion between the seaports of Zeeland and Ghent, aimed at creating a merger. “We must join forces. Together we are strong”, the Ambassador emphasizes.

In the field of the energy market, there is room still for Belgium and the Netherlands to improve cooperation. Maryem van den Heuvel points out, “Energy prices can differ greatly, and it would be interesting to find out if we could distribute our energy better across the whole country in order to create more efficiency”.

There are many large Dutch companies active in Belgium: Ahold, Philips, Shell, HEMA etc., but the Ambassador highlights that “We shouldn’t forget that we are also here to help SME’s in Belgium. The Netherlands’ Embassy to Belgium organizes trade missions, conducts market research, match-making, and organizes special days like “Brabant Dag”.

Opportunities for Belgian investors are bountiful in the Netherlands. The Dutch economy has been consistently performing well. The World Bank rated the Netherlands as the best country for trading across borders due to its low cost for import and export and the low amount of time devoted to processing paper work. The Netherlands, after the United States, is the 2nd largest producer of agro-foods. The Netherlands exported goods worth US$668 billion, which is about 3.5% of global export.

When doing business with Belgium, it is important not to rely on preconceptions. Maryem van den Heuvel cautions, “Even though the Netherlands and Belgium are very similar, you have to realize that things are a little different in Belgium. Just because we are close and speak the same language, the Dutch tend to think too quickly that Belgium is just like the Netherlands. This is not true. There are cultural differences that need to be taken into account”.

Finally, the spirit of two is stronger than one is clearly manifested in joining forces of the two nations. The Ambassador concludes, “You have to see it as a tandem, two people on a bike go faster. It is our goal to create wealth for both countries and to strengthen cultural ties. Together we contribute to the better understanding of each other’s culture and vision and rid prejudice. Relations between us have never been better, and I look forward to continuing this trend”.