Short speech by the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, at a business reception, 30 May 2013, Yangon, Myanmar

‘Today we mark a new beginning, by breathing new life into age-old relations’, said minister Schultz van Haegen at the seminar on water management in Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar). ‘As friends we are ready to support Myanmar through practical, sustainable and long-term economic cooperation. We’re happy to share our knowledge with you. So that together we can look for solutions to Myanmar’s challenges: flood prevention, clean water and fertile land. In other words: the pursuit of a life lived in safety, health and prosperity. At the same time, we can also learn from you: Because in my country, too, we have to keep on gathering knowledge. We need to keep responding to our changing climate and to extreme weather. And we need to keep dealing with all the resulting problems.’

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would first like to thank our hosts for organising this reception.

First I have tell you how impressed I am on my visit to this wonderful country.
Impressed by its beauty and serenity, its age-old culture, its nature, the colourful city of Yangon and the fascinating new city of Nay Pyi Taw.

But what has struck me most is the hospitality of the people I’ve met during my visit.
My journey has been an inspiring so far. 

I see my visit as a historic start to a promising partnership.
During my speech at the water seminar I explained that the Netherlands’ trade relations with Myanmar go back almost four hundred years.

And now − in the 21st century − we have the chance to breathe new life into this trade and share valuable knowledge with each other.

To me, trade and cooperation between the Netherlands and Myanmar is still a diamond in the rough.

A diamond that will start to shine as we both invest in knowledge-building and trade. 

This trade mission has centred on water.
But the opportunities for cooperation and investment are much broader, of course.

Through multinationals, small and medium-sized enterprises, the Netherlands can become a key partner in many areas: like transport, logistics and environmental technology.

After all, the Netherlands is known around the world as the gateway to Europe.
It is home to Europe’s biggest seaport, the Port of Rotterdam, and one of Europe’s most important airports, Amsterdam Schiphol.

So there are plenty of excellent opportunities for economic cooperation.

When it comes to water, there are many similarities between our two countries.

Like Myanmar, the Netherlands is a river delta with a long coastline.  

Water keeps us alive; water for us to drink and water for our fields.
And it brings us prosperity too.

For Myanmar and other countries in this region, water is also a festive and religious symbol.
Last month, the people of Myanmar celebrated the New Year with the traditional Thingyan water festival.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet seen it for myself, but I’ve heard it’s a grand occasion. 

But while water can bring us prosperity, it can also be our enemy.

Sadly, your country knows all too well what devastating effects water can have.
And we both know that those risks will never go away.
We simply cannot tame nature.

You will still have vivid memories of the two cyclones that hit your country in 2008 and 2010.
The challenge we both face is to reduce the chances of flooding and minimise the effects.

The Netherlands has been very successful in its approach.
Water management is essential to our country’s existence.
Two-thirds of the Netherlands is at risk from flooding.
We have spent centuries building up expertise on flood protection.

And we’ve built a global reputation in this area.
‘Bring in the Dutch!’ is a frequent cry when water disasters occur.

And we’re proud of that.
We’re keen to share our knowledge with other countries wherever we can.

I’m convinced that Dutch knowledge institutions, businesses – large and small – and government authorities can do a great deal for Myanmar, together with local partners. 

In fact, we can do a lot for each other.
Water connects the Netherlands and Myanmar.  
And sharing our knowledge will benefit both countries.

With my visit I want to underline our ambition to strengthen our cooperation and the importance of doing so.
Which is why I signed a Memorandum of Understanding at yesterday’s inspiring water management seminar.

We will flesh this out in a practical work programme to take our cooperation to the next level.

Dutch businesses, government authorities and knowledge institutions are keen to join forces with local partners to continue building a safe and sustainable Myanmar.

And on that note I’d like to propose a toast to closer ties between our two countries.