December 7, 2013
Argentina and the Netherlands are closer than you think
Today’s royal coronation in Amsterdam has been written about from almost every possible angle but I would like to offer here the perspective of a Dutchman who has lived in Argentina for much of his life and who works in an area dear to the heart of the new king — namely, waterways.
For the average European and South American countries, and especially Argentina, are perhaps best-known for soccer and some vague notion of good food.
I have often written about the common history and interests of the Netherlands and Argentina (usually in the World Trade supplement). It goes way back in time. A large number of coastal landmarks hold Dutch names, from cartographers navigating the shores during Spanish colonial times (the Le Maire strait, Staten Island/Isla de los Estados, Orange, Schapenham, Valentyns bay, among others). Dutch ingenuity in everything related to water, like the building of ports and infrastructure, has found in time its way into Argentina. A good part of the port of Rosario was built by the Dutch. The pipeline crossing of the Magellan Strait was also the work of Dutch companies (the first one way back and, a couple of years ago, a second one). This is only to mention a few.
The Netherlands has been always one of Argentina’s main trading partners. Through the Rotterdam hub it imports a good part of the agricultural produce which, in turn. is distributed throughout Europe. Trading with the Dutch is also most certainly reflected by the fact that the Argentine/Dutch Chamber of Commerce was established in 1919, five years before the Argentine Chamber of Commerce itself (1924).
A large number of companies have long been established and are still very active in Argentina: Shell, Unilever, Makro, KLM, just to mention a few. This is only a minor highlight of the Dutch involvement in Argentina.
Dutch experience in water management could be used to great advantage, especially in the light of the lack of infrastructure, as sadly experienced recently. Agricultural technology in the Netherlands has transformed that tiny country into one of the three largest farm produce exporters in the world — indeed, in 2011 Dutch agribusiness exported a total of 74 billion euros, as compared to Argentina’s US$43 billion in that year. The possibilities are endless.
The Netherlands is a country with many awkward contradictions, at least in the eyes of foreigners. It is one of the most advanced democracies in the world, although it is a monarchy. It is also probably the most cosmopolitan society in Europe with close to half of its inhabitants holding a second nationality.
The typical Dutch person has a high regard for freedom of thought and speech. This may explain why a country with only 17 million inhabitants has such an incredibly high number of political parties.
Around 12 of these parties are large enough to achieve national and/or European representation and a further nine are represented at a more local (provincial and municipal) level.
At the same time, the Netherlands also holds a high regard for tradition. The abdication of Queen Beatrix is most certainly a good example. There are not many kingdoms in the world (if any) which see the benefit of respecting the various stages of human life when it comes to a Royal Family. Although the Queen is most definitely fit and capable of holding the reins of the country, she will still step quietly aside, as did her mother and grandmother in the past. This is quite something when one comes to think about it.
The future of Dutch/Argentine collaboration is endless. The particular composition of the Royal Family is of transcendental importance.
First, the Royal Wedding in 2002, followed closely by the Queen’s visit, and now the coronation of King Willem Alexander and his Queen Consort Máxima have, at the very least, generated a flow of activities, cultural exchange and awareness which have already brought Dutch and Argentine societies closer.
It can only get better from now on.
Jan Kok is a Dutch businessman at Samtrans Maritima SA.