Speech by the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, at the GCC Supply Chain & Logistics Conference, Muscat
‘Muscat, Dutch sailor Cornelis Eyks wrote in 1763, is considered the most powerful country of the Arabian principalities, said minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen, minister of Infrastructure and the Environment at the GCC Supply Chain & Logistics Conference in Muscat. ‘Our merchants saw it as a crossroads, where goods from different directions changed hands. Two hundred and fifty years later, Oman is once again a strong, prosperous country. A country that is moving forward boldly to consolidate its position on the world market. For example by building strong relations with the port of Rotterdam, the largest seaport outside Asia. I hope the story of Cornelis Eyks will inspire us to keep investing in our close ties. Ties that both our countries’ economies can build on. That foster innovation in logistics and supply chains. And that contribute to flourishing world trade.’
Ladies and gentlemen,
This morning I would like to take you back to bygone days.
To the year 1762, to be exact.
At that time the Dutch East India Company was the biggest trading company in the world, with hundreds of ships sailing back and forth between Europe and Asia.
One of those ships was the Amstelveen, named after a village near Amsterdam.
In 1762 the Amstelveen set sail from the Netherlands and arrived safely in the East Indies.
The next year it began its return voyage.
Loaded with sugar, spices and sappan wood, it headed for the Persian Gulf.
But it never reached its destination.
It ran aground and capsized, about six hundred kilometres from this spot, near the cape of Ra’s Madrakah.
Of the hundred people on board, only thirty survived the tragic shipwreck.
One of them was a naval officer, called Cornelis Eyks.
He and his companions reached the shore and began a trip on foot of over 500 kilometres.
They walked for more than a month before they arrived in Muscat.
Eyks kept a journal of his trip: his personal account of the stranding of the ship and the trek that followed.
His Notes were published three years later.
But they were soon forgotten.
In 1997, however, they were rediscovered in France.
They are an impressive account of a survival trek through a large desert area, twice the size of the Netherlands.
A region where no European had previously set foot.
Eyks’ story has fascinated writers and filmmakers.
And in a couple of hours I’ll be attending the premiere of a documentary about a search for the wreck of the Amstelveen.
In Oman as in the Netherlands, the story has captured people’s imaginations.
It is a moving tale from our shared history.
Moreover, the story shows that some things haven’t changed since 1763.
Because today, just as then, Oman occupies a prominent place in world trade.
‘Muscat’, Eyks wrote, ‘is considered the most powerful country of the Arabian principalities.’
Dutch merchants saw it as a crossroads, where goods from different directions changed hands.
Two hundred and fifty years later, Oman is once again a strong, prosperous country.
A country that is moving forward boldly to consolidate its position on the world market.
If you look at a map of the world, you could even see Oman as a crossroads between three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.
The story of the Amstelveen shows how strong our age-old trade relations are.
The East India Company opened a trading post in Muscat, at the invitation of the imam, almost a hundred years before the wreck of the Amstelveen.
But the post was closed after only three years:
it turned out that de Dutch were no match for the Omani merchants.
Trade did not dry up, however.
On the contrary:
it was so lively in the days of Cornelis Eyks that some people in Muscat even spoke Dutch.
Relations stayed friendly in later years, too.
In the nineteenth century the Netherlands and Oman signed a free trade agreement.
And today, in spite of hard times in our part of the world, our economic ties are still flourishing.
Dutch companies like Shell have established long-term partnerships with Oman.
Our common maritime tradition helps sustain our ties.
For example, the Netherlands offers training courses for Omani sailors.
And your country is a major partner of the Port of Rotterdam.
As you may know, Rotterdam is the largest port outside Asia.
Many of the goods destined for the European market pass through Rotterdam along the way.
For example, much of this region’s oil and gas ends up in Rotterdam’s refineries.
Of course, our trade no longer consists of sugar, spices and sappan wood, as the days of Cornelis Eyks.
He lived at a time when our languages did not know the words logistics or supply chains.
In this respect the world has changed a lot in the past 250 years.
In today’s world, distances have shrunk, transport has sped up and real-time communication has become the norm.
And these trends are ongoing.
Today Rotterdam is the gateway to Europe for oil, steel and containers full of consumer goods.
And in this region Oman is rapidly positioning itself to play the same central role.
In 2013 our seaports and airports are far more than places to load and unload goods.
They are increasingly international mainports.
They serve to direct traffic throughout the chain;
from production to consumption, they determine the effectiveness and efficiency of each link in the chain.
This clearly applies to the Netherlands, which is a true transit country.
Logistics contributes 50 billion dollars to our GDP.
This gives us a strong economy:
with only 16 million inhabitants, we account for almost four per cent of global trade.
We will be investing more in logistics in the next several years. Because we know we can make it even more innovative and efficient.
And the role of our mainports will only increase.
Because the world is changing so rapidly, we have to use our infrastructure as effectively as possible.
The pressure on us is growing to make the smartest possible choices:
between transport by air, by road, by rail or by water – or to find the smartest possible combination.
And to keep pace with change, our transport also has to be more sustainable.
Of course we cannot do this alone.
Our companies have to join forces and share information more – both with each other and with partners around the world.
This explains why our relationship with Oman is so important to us.
It explains for example why the Port of Rotterdam is closely involved in the development of the ports in Sohar and Duqm.
Sohar’s new port is in fact a joint venture;
the Omani government and the Port of Rotterdam each own a 50% share in it.
For us in the Netherlands, Sohar is the gateway to the Middle East and the rest of Asia.
So partnerships with the Port of Rotterdam can be important in helping many players gain a stronger position in logistics and supply chains.
I’m sure the CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Mr Hans Smits, will have more to say about this later today.
And Dutch-Omani ties are not limited to ports and logistics.
Dozens of Dutch companies are active here in a host of fields, from airport baggage handling to water management in the desert, and from waste processing to cultural exchange.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Cornelis Eyks could not have known in 1763 that people would still remember his name today.
But today, as in Eyks’ time, two cultures are meeting each other that know world trade inside and out.
Two cultures that realise how much they have to gain by working together.
And two countries that recognise the urgency of innovation in a changing world.
Perhaps Dutch isn’t spoken any more in Muscat, as it was in 1763.
But we are both fluent in the language of world trade.
When it comes to logistics, the Netherlands and Oman form an unbeatable team.
And thanks in part to Cornelis Eyks we are old friends, communicating on the same wavelength.
I hope Eyks’ story will inspire us to keep investing in our close commercial ties.
Ties that both our countries’ economies can build on.
That foster innovation in logistics and supply chains.
And that contribute to flourishing world trade.