*by Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee
- Despite a 400-year footprint in India, it took 8 years for a Dutch Prime Minister to visit and to be hosted by Prime Minister Modi, on 5-6 June, 2015. The young and dynamic Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who reportedly shares a close rapport with German Chancellor Angela Markel, and is a key player in inner EU council, came with a large business delegation with representatives of more than 100 companies including Shell, Philips, Unilever, Amsterdam Schipol and the Port of Rotterdam. He was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Ms. Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Agriculture Sharon Dijksma. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi meeting with Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Mr. Mark Rutte in New Delhi (June 05, 2015)
- The visit assumes greater importance since Netherlands as a founder and important member of the EU, has been a strong supporter of Summit level consultations with India on an annual basis. After the postponement of the India-EU Summit in Brussels in April, 2015, the visit is the first of an important EU Head of Government. Despite its size, Netherlands continues to exercise considerable influence over decision making within the Councils of the European Union. This is not only due to the size of its economy which is now the world’s 19th, but also because it has managed to maintain, through fiscal prudence and monetary discipline, its privileged international rankings and marginal growth of its economy, despite the austerity measures amid the ongoing Euro Zone crisis. It is reportedly continuing to press its European partners for finalisation at the earliest of new dates for the Summit.
- The visit was a notable success, politically as well as from the business and trade perspective. The one-to-one with our Prime Minister was warm and friendly with wide ranging discussions and bilateral and global issues of mutual interests followed by a lunch discussion hosted by our Prime Minister with 35 Indian and Dutch CEOs of cutting edge companies. A Joint Communiqué was issued and, as a result of a breakthrough in the discussions, a Road Map was established for cooperation in infrastructure, connectivity and water management, agriculture, Smart Cities and renewable energy and waste energy, to name a few. Among the highlights from the political perspective were:
From an economic and business perspective, the following breakthroughs were significant:
- Expansion of security and defence cooperation
- Commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations
- Recognition that India was an obvious candidate in an expanded Security Council
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mr. Mark Rutte at the delegation level talks in New Delhi (June 05, 2015)
- Commitment by Netherlands to play a leading role in setting up of an EU-Ganga platform
- Strengthening identified areas of collaborations with Netherlands on National Mission on Clean Ganga
- Facilitation of agreement on cooperation with Rotterdam Port on port development with India
- The business and trade element has traditionally shaped relations since Dutch ships came calling to our ports 400 years ago. The Netherlands is today India’s fourth largest trading partner in the EU and one of the top five investors. In recent years the value of mutual trade has risen to more than six billion Euros. There are 115 Dutch companies which have their presence in India. Netherlands also attracts most of the out-bound foreign direct investments from India as well as joint ventures in third countries. Bharti Airtel issued a guarantee worth US $ 1.01 billion to its Netherlands based joint venture in 2013, through which it looks after its operation in Africa.
- With Indian cooperation increasingly looking at expanding their global footprints by investing overseas, a recent study by Care Ratings showed that a share of 28.8% out of the total Indian investments of $2.9 billion went to the Netherlands. The business friendly corporate tax structure and the good business climate have led to most of the major IT companies from India establishing their offices in Netherlands with impressive business portfolios such as Dishman Pharma, 01 Synergy, Nucleaus and Bharti Airtel. A notable trend is the merger and acquisition activities with Indian companies taking over some important Dutch business portfolios such as Tata Steel and Corus, Apollo Tyres and Vredestein, Banco Products and Nederlandse Radiateuren Fabriek. Wipro and Infosys have opened Customer Service Centres in Netherlands along with TCS. Apollo Vredestein has opened a global R & D Centre in Netherlands.
- The visit provided a timely reminder of the need to preserve the fascinating remnants of Dutch heritage in India. The first ship of the Netherlands East India Company reached the famous Malabar Coast in Kerala, known as a Spice Coast 400 years ago. Off the beaten track, one can find remains of the Dutch period in our history along the entire coast line from Surat to Kolkata and from Visakhapatnam to Kochi and Pulicat. Successive Dutch envoys to India proudly recall that when India attained Independence on 15th August, 1947, the Dutch Ambassador was only one of the three Ambassadors present in Delhi at Prime Minister Nehru’s famous "Tryst with Destiny” speech.
The Dutch Ambassador HE Alphonsus Stoelinga, one of the most respected envoys in Delhi recently pointed out:
"Our shared heritage is both a compelling and tangible reason for us to ponder on the past and on its significance for the present and the future. This can lead to mutual understanding, a reinforcement of ties and the intensification of fruitful cooperation between India and the Netherlands”. Deputy Mayor of The Hague Municipality, Rabin Baldewsingh, was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in 2014.
- Netherlands has the largest community of Indian Diaspora in Continental Europe, outside UK. Numbering 220,000, they are referred to as the Hindustani community, who came to Netherlands from India via Suriname. They are proud of their Indian heritage and culture and very supportive of India. The largest Hindu temple in Europe is currently being built in The Hague with funding from the Hindustani community and strong support from The Hague Municipality whose Deputy Mayor, Rabin Baldewsingh, was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman last year. The Dutch PM’s delegation included some of our former compatriots, some visiting India for the first time. It was, as expected, a visit rich in substance and content. It reflected the shared values at the heart of the Indo-Dutch relationship, values that need to be nurtured, strengthened and consolidated.
*[The views expressed in the article above are the personal views of the author. The author, a former diplomat was Permanent Representative of India to UNESCO (2004-2010). This article has been written exclusively for ‘In Focus” section of Ministry of External Affairs website - www.mea.gov.in