Speech by Prime Minister Rutte at the trade dinner in Shanghai, China

Speech by Prime Minister Rutte at the trade dinner in Shanghai, China 25 March 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

I recently read an interview with a Rotterdam-based healthcare professional who does a lot of business with partners in Shanghai. He said: ‘If the Chinese have a problem, they will travel the world to find the best solution.’

And I’m happy to say: they seem to find that solution, more and more, in the Netherlands. Take the enormous increase in Chinese investment in Dutch companies. Or the growing number of Chinese students and researchers at our universities.

The Dutch media are full of reports about Chinese activities in our country. Like the recent investment in a Dutch pension insurer and even in the football club of my own city, The Hague. It’s clear that all those sea containers full of goods travelling from Shanghai to Rotterdam are only one side of the story. People-to-people contacts are also flourishing. This has triggered a flood of knowledge, experience and ideas in all kinds of fields, sometimes in surprising areas. For instance, that healthcare professional I quoted is working with partners from Shanghai to improve care for elderly people with dementia.

And that flow of people, knowledge and ideas goes both ways. As it has for centuries. Because the Dutch, too, know that to move forward you have to push the boundaries. That was true back in the 17th century, when the first Dutch ships were sighted off the coast of China. And it’s true now. For years, the Netherlands has been one of China’s top three trading partners in Europe, and the third-biggest European investor in Shanghai. In 2014 mutual trade between the Netherlands and Shanghai totalled over eight billion dollars. And it’s still growing. Those are impressive figures. But there’s always room for improvement. And that’s why I’m here, in Shanghai, with a big trade delegation. To open doors and close deals.

It makes perfect sense that Shanghai plays a special role in the relationship between the Netherlands and China. The world’s biggest port is bound by many ties to Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port. Ties of business. And ties of friendship. What’s more, Shanghai is an economic hotspot to rival any in the world. This city alone generates no less than one-eighth of China’s total income. It’s bursting with energy. You feel that as soon as you land here. It’s a cosmopolitan, vibrant city. With enviable growth figures. And great potential for international businesses, thanks in part to the Free Trade Zone. And that’s why we Dutch like to come here.

Around 3,000 Dutch people live and work in Shanghai. It’s also home to around 800 businesses that are directly or indirectly based in the Netherlands. That’s a lot – but it makes sense. Because despite our social and cultural differences, we have a lot in common. Our spirit of enterprise. Our culture of innovation. Our pragmatic mindset and result-based approach. We’re always looking for the best solutions to current and future challenges. That’s what binds us. That’s what will take us forward.

I was delighted that President Xi Jinping chose the Netherlands for his first European state visit. A logical choice, because the Netherlands is the gateway to Europe. But as the president could see, the country’s appeal doesn’t lie only in its excellent infrastructure, the port of Rotterdam, Schiphol airport and our links to the rest of Europe. It also lies in our spirit of enterprise. And our enquiring, pragmatic and innovative nature.

The Netherlands is a small country that does big business. We’re the seventeenth-biggest economy in the world and the second-biggest agricultural exporter after the United States. Dutch companies lead the way in expertise on agri-food, water management and life sciences. Fields that will determine the future of our planet. Especially of densely populated regions like Shanghai. So this city was a natural location for the Holland Centre, opened here by the Dutch foreign trade minister, Lilianne Ploumen, in October last year. The Holland Centre works to boost partnerships between Dutch and Chinese agri-food companies.

Today I attended the seminar ‘The Power of Cooperation. Past, Present and Future’. And I heard about many innovative joint ventures in the agri-food sector. Take the Sino-Dutch Dairy Development Centre – a partnership between Wageningen University, China Agricultural University, Friesland Campina CRV and Beijing Zhongdi Breeding Company Limited. They’re working together to improve the quality, safety and yield of local dairy produce.

Ladies and gentlemen, when President Xi visited the Netherlands in March last year, he and I agreed to step up the excellent cooperation between our two countries. And you can see we’re on the right track. But it’s not only down to us. On the contrary. The real business is being done by companies like those here today. So seize your chance, talk to each other, get to know each other. So we can help each other find the best solutions. Here’s to an inspiring partnership!