Export event Port of Rotterdam

Speech by minister for Agriculture Van Dam at export event Port of Rotterdam.

Commissioner Hogan,

Member of the European Parliament Mrs. Schreijer-Pierik,

Representatives of the Chinese and American embassies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

For many decades, European agriculture has been an important pillar of economic growth and social welfare. Our animals and our crops have fed a growing continent, created valuable jobs and enabled us to trade with the world. In recent years, however, the industry has become troubled. Farmers are feeling relentless pressure to reduce their prices, while society is restricting their room to invest. The industry is in dire straits and there is a growing realisation that it needs to restructure.

The sense of urgency is high and various stakeholders are working on a plan of action. In the Netherlands, the Rosenthal Committee has presented a number of useful ideas for the pig industry and the Nijpels Committee is working on a plan for the livestock industry. In Brussels, meanwhile, the Agricultural Markets Task Force led by Cees Veerman is trying to improve the position of farmers in the food chain. Much remains to be done, but the fact that we are meeting here today, in one of the world’s global hubs for agro-food exports, tells me that we are on the right track.

In spite of adverse market conditions, the Netherlands remains the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products. Last year, we exported some 90 billion euros worth of agri-food products, or 21% of all the goods we exported. This is due to excellent co-operation across the entire agro-food value chain, as well as the quality of  of our infrastructure, our logistical capabilities and the position of the Port of Rotterdam.  This unique combination allows us to efficiently and effectively produce high-quality food and to deliver them around the world without any loss of quality. 

But there is no time to rest on our laurels. Our current model of production is ecologically unsustainable and needs to be revamped. And the global challenge to feed a rapidly growing population demands that we change what and how we export. Because while we excel at providing high-quality food at low prices, I doubt whether that approach will remain competitive for much longer. Around us there are countries who are also competing on price. Countries with more soil, lower wages and lower standards of environmental protection.

I believe that we should increasingly focus on quality rather than on quantity and cost. Because what ultimately distinguishes us from other countries, is the depth of our knowledge and our ability to develop innovative solutions to complicated problems. We cannot grow tomatoes for the entire global population, but we can supply the seeds and high-tech green houses that allow people to grow them locally.

This transition from quantity to quality is consistent with our food agenda and ought to be translated into exports. By exporting the technology and expertise needed to sustainably grow high-quality food, the export of flowers and food can remain a pillar of our agricultural business model. This would allow us to simultaneously contribute to global food security and remain a leading agri-food player.

Naturally, this presupposes that markets around the world are open to our products. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the agricultural councils at our embassies are committed to securing that access. We are able to show the world that we have systems in place that guarantee the safety of our animals, plants and food-products. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority is trusted around the world, as are our various food labels. Dutch Controlled Quality Veal, Pork from Holland, Dutch breeding cattle and Dutch baby food are in demand around the world.

The same goes for Dutch agro-food knowledge and technology. Dutch companies and knowledge institutes are helping a growing number of countries develop their native ability to grow food. So they can do it locally, efficiently, with minimal losses throughout the distribution chain and with respect for the environment. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is actively creating opportunities for this, be it through outgoing missions such as the upcoming one to South Korea or by hosting incoming missions.

Now, we are here today because it’s the first time in 20 years that Dutch veal will be exported to the US. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has worked closely with industry partners and the American government to make this happen. We are also working hard to find markets for animal products that are currently not being sold. In the first 8 months of this year, the Netherlands exported 186 tons of pork to China, and 85% of this meat, such as ears, tails and  trotters, has no use in Western cuisine. The Dutch government is currently trying to get access to pigs stomachs as well. This is not only good for exports, but also means we make more sustainable use of our animals.

The hard work that has gone in today’s shipments is symbolic of the long road ahead. The agricultural industry is facing a major challenge, and it will take significant effort to work things out. It will require close co-operation between the government and the industry, but also the involvement of the European Commission. First, because Europe needs to be a level playing field that holds everyone to the same high standards. Second, because Europe needs to coordinate who gets access to which markets, so that we don’t get in each other’s way. And third, because the European Commission helps us gain access to foreign markets, as it did in the case of Vietnam.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

The Port of Rotterdam is symbolic of our global ambitions and the challenges we face. This port is still one of the largest petrochemical hubs in the world, but is also adapting to the changing demands of our time. So now, in addition to ships loading oil, there are also ships loading parts of windmills that will generate sustainable electricity out at sea. I believe that the Dutch agri-food industry can achieve a similar transformation and find new ways to add value to a growing world.

Thank you.