100th economic mission: it’s not just about trade

Today, trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen set off for the German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia on the government’s 100th economic mission. She is accompanied by delegates from 66 companies and knowledge institutions. The mission will run in parallel with a working visit by the King and Queen. ‘In the past four years we’ve led 100 missions like this to 60 different countries,’ Ms Ploumen noted. ‘From Poland to Panama and from the Congo to Canada, we’ve put the skills and expertise of Dutch companies, knowledge institutions and NGOs firmly on the map.’

One third of the national income – and 2.2 million jobs in the Netherlands – are dependent on foreign trade. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s second government set out to boost opportunities for Dutch companies, by stepping up economic missions and creating a new ministerial post for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. As Ms Ploumen explained: ‘The Netherlands was passing up too many opportunities in emerging markets like China, Indonesia and Brazil. SMEs in particular tended to confine themselves to the Netherlands, despite all that they have to offer foreign partners. Economic missions are an ideal way of establishing contacts for successful international business. The large numbers of companies that are keen to take part is proof of these missions’ great potential. Women entrepreneurs have discovered the value of these missions too, and now make up around 25% of the delegations, compared with 10% initially.’ According to data from participating companies, the 100 missions have generated around €3.5 billion of new business. However, most companies that make new contacts through these missions don’t generally reap concrete benefits until some time later.

Broader agenda changes missions’ scope
‪The 100 missions – most of them organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency – have included participants from 4,700 companies. On 6 November 2012, the day after the government took office, Mr Rutte and Ms Ploumen headed a business delegation to Turkey. Significantly, the scope of these missions has been broadened as a result of Ms Ploumen’s agenda combining aid and trade. ‘Delegations increasingly include knowledge institutions and NGOs. We also encourage companies to pay greater attention to sustainability and the impact of their activities on the local population,’ the minister said. She also noted that Dutch companies are good at proposing smart solutions to major challenges, for instance in the areas of water and agriculture. ‘One fine example of this was the mission to the countries hit by Ebola,’ Ms Ploumen recalled. ‘Another was our visits to Bangladesh, where we worked with companies, unions and NGOs to make the textile industry safer. These new-style economic missions are boosting the Dutch economy while also bringing about progress in developing countries.’

Celebrating the 100th economic mission
‪The 100th economic mission is part of the King and Queen’s annual working visit to Germany.  Dutch trade with the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia is valued at around €5 billion, which is relatively lower than the value of trade with most other German states. ‘Germany is our biggest trading partner, but the east of the country often gets neglected. I’m here today with companies from the high-tech, chemicals and water sectors that have these opportunities in their sights. This 100th mission may not be taking us very far from home, but the objective remains the same: to seize the opportunities that have been missed.’