Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Trade and Investment Dinner, Bell Tower, Houston, 8 July 2013

Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Trade and Investment Dinner, Bell Tower, Houston, 8 July 2013. Rutte and Flemish First Minister Kris Peeters lead a joint economic mission to Texas from 7 to 9 July 2013.

Mayor Parker, Secretary of State Steen, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

As a teenager, I had a clear picture of Texas: men in cowboy hats rounding up cattle, endless plains where oil pumps went up and down all day, vast ranches with sheep and horses…and JR and Sue Ellen locking horns with each other.

That’s because my image of Texas was largely shaped by all the drama at Southfork Ranch, home of the Ewings in the television series Dallas. And I wasn’t the only one. Every week, seven million Dutch viewers were glued to their screens. And when Dutch TV stopped broadcasting the series, we all tuned to the Flemish channels, anxious not to miss an episode.    

But our ties go beyond television. Flemish and Dutch people speak the same language, share a common history and culture and are on good terms as friends and neighbours. But two regions and two prime ministers joining forces on a trade mission is unique for us. And that’s surprising, really. Take a map of Europe and you’ll see Flanders and the Netherlands united as one big coastal delta, a region that forms the gateway to Europe. So teaming up makes sense.

That’s why we’re here with a delegation of over 90 Flemish and Dutch companies and more than 120 businessmen and women. From a variety of sectors: oil and gas, chemicals, ports and smart grids. All ready to do business right here in Texas. 

The Netherlands and Flanders share a solid economic infrastructure, centring on the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. We specialise in transport, logistics, oil, gas and chemicals, as well as in high-tech manufacturing, research and innovation. Our highly developed transport and logistics infrastructure boasts major ports, like Antwerp and Rotterdam, combined with the highest density of freeways and railroads in Europe. A vast network of inland waterways and leading passenger and cargo airports connects our delta to the rest of Europe and the rest of the world. We host nearly all of the world’s major chemical companies and a great many world-class R&D institutes for fundamental and applied research. 

The Dutch-Flemish delta region has an unrivalled position in the petrochemical industry. The Dutch chemical industry, for example, has a positive trade balance of 24 billion euros. One reason for this success is our long tradition in this field, which has helped us build up an excellent knowledge base. Many companies, including businesses from Texas, benefit from the delta region as the main European hub for their raw materials and for logistics. 

We may be small in size, but when it comes to trade and investment we can match almost any country. We rank near the top of the list of the world’s largest exporting nations. And the United States has for many generations been one of our major trading partners. 

As a region we invest more in the United States than 17 times the investments of China, Brazil, India and Russia put together. On a similar note, our delta region is the number-one destination in the world for US foreign direct investment. In that sense, Texas hasn’t got a monopoly on ‘big’. 

I am very pleased that the United States and the EU have decided to start negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I am convinced that a partnership of this kind will give a tremendous boost to economic growth and job creation on both sides of the Atlantic. In Texas, in Flanders and in the Netherlands. We want to achieve even lower tariffs for importers and exporters. We want to create more uniform standards and procedures to make things less complicated for American and European entrepreneurs. And we want to provide better access to each other’s markets. 

Ladies and gentleman, your state shows impressive economic figures. The Texan ‘can do’ attitude combined with the fighting spirit that harks back to the days of the Alamo creates a perfect climate in which our businesses can flourish. 

In fact, Texas is already the state with the most Dutch foreign direct investment and the state that exports the most goods and services to the Netherlands. If we add Flanders to the mix, we reach an impressive total trade volume of over 15 billion dollars between Texas and our delta. To put this into perspective, it’s estimated that our trade and investment relations have created over 100,000 jobs in Texas. There’s no doubt about it − the Lone Star State is vital to the economic ties between our countries.

And that’s exactly why Minister-President Peeters and I are leading this trade mission personally. We want to act as enablers − opening doors and fostering economic cooperation between our regions. So it’s a great privilege to be here tonight in Houston.

Before giving the floor to you, Mr Secretary, I would like to give Minister-President Peeters the opportunity to share his thoughts on our mission as well.

Mayor Parker, Mr Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here with us this evening.