Speech by Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, on the occasion of the economic mission to Ireland, Cork

Ladies and gentlemen,
I stand here today before a very interesting group of people: entrepreneurs from the maritime sectors of Ireland and the Netherlands.
Two countries that each share a long-standing relationship with water going back many centuries. Two countries that each have a culture of rolling up their sleeves, and getting down to work with a ‘no nonsense’ approach. And two countries that share strong ties in politics, trade and the maritime sector.

The Netherlands is a country of trade and business people. We travelled the world and the seven seas, and the Dutch economy grew thanks to trade and innovation.
As foreign trade and development minister I’m committed to ensuring that everyone can benefit from the global increase in prosperity in a responsible way. We all have committed ourselves to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to make this world a better place for all of us by 2030.
Companies are part of that commitment. Companies have the knowledge, expertise and capital needed. And we will only achieve sustainable solutions by working together.
Brexit is an issue for the whole of the EU. For Ireland and the Netherlands it is a particular challenge because of our close ties with the UK. We are the two EU member states that will be hit hardest by the UK’s withdrawal. The ones who will feel the negative impact the most. In our economies, in our politics and in the loss of an important partner within the EU. The uncertainty on Brexit is harmful for the EU27 and the UK, but also for businesses and citizens.
Brexit presents Ireland with an additional challenge. A hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would have devastating social and economic effects, and everything possible should be done to avoid it.
The Netherlands is well aware of the far-reaching implications of Brexit for Ireland. Everyone needs certainty – whether they are ordinary citizens, farmers or business people. We will work with you and all our European partners on solutions that safeguard the interests of us both. Please be assured that the Kingdom of the Netherlands stands side by side with Ireland.
Brexit will also change trade flows. As do the types of goods being traded. Where can Irish meat go when it arrives here at the port? How will it reach the continent when your gateway to Europe, the United Kingdom, can no longer be taken for granted?
Bilateral relationship
The sea still offers a solution. As said, links between Ireland and mainland Europe need to be strengthened. European ports – and especially those of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which have enormous transhipment capacity – offer another gateway to Europe. And beyond. But to achieve this, we need to work together closely.
We need to turn our existing ports into ports of the future. And in this regard the Netherlands is willing and able to be an ally to Ireland. And a trade partner. With knowledge and know-how gained through our centuries-old experience with the sea. And bybuilding on our existing partnership.

During this mission, for example, I’ve learned that the Dutch company Boskalis and Irish Dredging teamed up to carry out dredging work in Dublin Port. And here in Cork, Royal BAM Group and the Port of Cork worked together to develop the RingaskiddyDeepwater Terminal.
In 2018, the Irish Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation identified a number of technological advances whichwill prove vital for Irish ports. These involve smart ports, big data, maritime ICT, autonomous ships, cybersecurity, ocean observations and mapping the seabed.

And here too, when it comes to logistics and transport in the maritime infrastructure and port development sector, we have lots to offer each other.
New technologies and innovations offer new opportunities to make our economy, production processes and trade more inclusive and effective. They are the key to creating the ports of tomorrow. I’m pleased that our countries are already working together in these areas too. The ports of Rotterdam and Cork are already working together on digitalisation, for instance.
These are all perfect examples of the strong links between our countries and companies in the maritime sector and in the rapid development of Irish ports. And I hope to make our ties even stronger. And boost sustainability.
Social challenges
Doing business and contributing to a sustainable future go hand in hand. If we want achieve the SDGs and the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, then we’ll need to innovate.

The maritime sector must shoulder its share of responsibility. For me, it’s wonderful to see that you’re all stepping up to the plate of your own accord. And that applies to both Irish and Dutch companies.

The Port of Rotterdam, for example, is working hard to becomecarbon neutral by 2050. While companies and startups near the Port of Amsterdam are being given ample scope to work towardsa future based on the circular economy. And the ports of Dublin and Cork are focusing hard on digitalisation. That’s important. Because sustainability is not only about directly reducing current emissions. It’s also about changing processes so they result in lower emissions in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our countries have long enjoyed strong ties. We must prepare seriously for the implications of Brexit. And we have plenty to offer one another. It’s water that connects us. In many senses. So let’s make the very most of it.
Several of you have already got acquainted this morning. This afternoon’s B2B meeting provides an opportunity to get to know each other even better. But for now, I wish you a pleasant lunch and lots of productive conversations.

Thank you.