Speech by Verhagen at seminar with president Lula

Mr President, Your Majesty, Ms Verbeet, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the ‘Oude Zaal’, the former assembly chamber of the Dutch Parliament, where the House of Representatives of the States General met from 1815 to 1992, when a new chamber was opened. These walls contain a powerful aura of political history.

The relationship between the Netherlands and Brazil dates back even further. We have known each other for over four hundred years. As early as the sixteenth century, Dutch international trade routes included the Brazilian coastline because of its high-quality brazilwood and sugar production. Since then we have developed strong bonds and a warm friendship – this state visit is yet another example of our excellent relations.

But Mr President, we are not here to dwell on our common past. We are here to explore our future together.

Today’s world may be smaller, but its problems loom larger. Globalisation has brought both our countries, and the world in general, many benefits: increased trade, innovative technologies, better and faster means of communicating and sharing information and ideas, to name only a few examples. But it has also brought new challenges. One question we have yet to answer is how to make globalisation a truly inclusive process. All around the world, people are discovering new opportunities as a result of globalisation, but at the same time, there are those who are deprived of its benefits. These people are uncertain about how globalisation will affect their jobs, their security, their environment, their identity. It is up to us to seize the opportunities and to address the concerns, at home as well as abroad. This is why the Dutch government is so actively engaged globally. We believe that being open and internationally oriented is in the best interests of our own citizens.

Frankly, I believe that the interests of Dutch citizens are not so different to those of the Brazilian people, or indeed those of anyone else around the world. These interests call for respect for human rights, for education and personal development, for free and fair trade and an unpolluted, sustainable environment. This is a virtually universal vision. We all want the same things for our children and grandchildren. And we must work hard, together, to achieve these goals. In Brazil, Mr President, the Netherlands has found a strong partner.

Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country by geographical area, the world’ s fifth most populous nation and the world’s fourth most populous democracy. Your economy is one of the ten largest in the world, and is expected to grow steadily. Important economic reforms have contributed to this success, and you have not even realised your full potential yet.

Brazil has successfully engaged with other emerging markets and developing countries, forming alliances which jointly represent common interests, like the G20. The global balance of power is shifting, and Brazil is assuming a leadership role in the world.

Leadership comes with responsibilities, which Brazil will be expected to shoulder. And you are rising to the occasion. Brazil has shown particular leadership in the area of human rights, as laid down in the Universal Declaration sixty years ago: justice, equality, solidarity, humanity and liberty. I have placed human rights squarely at the centre of Dutch foreign policy because human rights are tremendously important to me. And because they are under threat around the world.

One of today’s challenges is that the universality of human rights, which was reaffirmed by 171 UN member states at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, can no longer be taken for granted. Tradition, culture, religion or other justifications (such as combating terrorism) are used as a smoke screen by those who seek to deviate from international human rights standards. This calls for vigilance and resolve. The Netherlands is working hard to turn the UN ’s Human Rights Council into a credible and effective organisation. And we are working side by side with Brazil, one of our strongest partners in the Council. I would like to thank you for that important and productive cooperation. I trust that we can extend it further in the years ahead.

Climate change is another area in which we encourage Brazilian leadership. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is primarily the responsibility of the industrialised world. However, if we want to combat climate change effectively, emerging markets will also have to play their part. The Netherlands would very much welcome Brazil taking a pioneering role as we work towards new international climate targets. As chair of the working group that is conducting negotiations on a new climate agreement, you have a key role to play in moving the post-Bali process forward. The new agreement should reflect a broad approach to climate change and also include effective measures against deforestation, since this contributes as much as twenty per cent to worldwide emissions. This is particularly relevant for Brazil in view of the logging that takes place in the Amazon.

Brazil is the world’s largest producer of ethanol, so it’s hardly surprising that your country is sometimes referred to as a biofuel superpower. As you know, the European Union has agreed on ambitious targets to address climate change. By 2020, twenty per cent of our energy mix should originate from renewable sources, and ten per cent of fuel for the transport sector should come from biofuels. But only if they can be produced sustainably. This is at the heart of the debate on biofuels. And indeed, producers, including those in Brazil, face the challenge of meeting the EU’s strict sustainability standards. This is in both our interests: it is in your interest as an exporter to a potentially enormous market, and it is in our interest because we want to honour our European commitments and diversify our energy mix to avoid being overly dependent on too few suppliers. Brazil is well placed to be a ‘first mover’ in this respect, to make the necessary technological push, together with foreign investors. This would surely result in a win-win situation. I see great opportunities here.

Mr President, Your Majesty, Ms Verbeet, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I have touched upon a few issues that I consider to be challenges of our times. Challenges, as we know, are what make life interesting. And overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. We certainly live in an interesting age. Let us work together to make it meaningful as well.

Mr President, I invite you to take the floor.

Thank you.