Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte says that South Africa has all the right things in place to tackle its challenges and will be visiting the country later this month on what is the biggest trade mission to South Africa in Holland’s history.
More than 65 Dutch companies will accompany Rutte – who was last here in 2002 as an executive of a Unilever subsidiary – with a view to signing business-to-business agreements with local counterparts. Holland’s Minister of Agriculture, Sharon Dijksma, will also join him.
The trip will focus on a range of sectors including transport and logistics, water, agrifood, healthcare and energy – areas in which Dutch companies see opportunity in South Africa, Rutte said.
Speaking to South African journalists visiting the Netherlands last week, Rutte said the country would like to link very closely with the economic ambitions of the South African government.
The Netherlands is South Africa’s second largest export market for agricultural products worldwide, its third biggest trading partner in the European Union and its eighth biggest trading partner in the world.
According to Rutte, some 350 Dutch companies operate in South Africa, while 20 South African companies are active in the Netherlands. “That’s an imbalance but both sides are doing a lot to correct it,” he highlighted.
Rutte will be visiting House of the Future and Garden of the Future in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively, aimed at facilitating and showcasing Dutch-South African partnerships.
Commenting on the Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill, Rutte said it was of crucial importance to reach a new agreement under the Bill and that this was best done through the European Union (EU).
The Bill will replace bilateral trade agreements between South Africa and European nations and has been criticised by the EU Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which says it will lead to disinvestment out of South Africa due to inadequate protection for foreign investors.
Rutte said the Netherlands is also currently reassessing its investment protection policy.
Still the ‘S’ in BRICS
Known to ride his bicycle unaccompanied by bodyguards around The Hague, the Dutch Prime Minister, 48, stressed that the potential of South Africa is “huge in every sense”.
“Things take time and my feeling is that at least you have everything in place. When talking to companies, they want an independent judiciary, democracy, rule of law and protection of human rights. These are big issues [and] when they are established it creates the business environment, the basics that companies need. I’m happy to go to a country where I don’t have to convince the President that this is necessary; it is all in place,” he commented.
“South Africa is still the ‘S’ in BRICS. I am still impressed by what you have accomplished.”
That South Africa still faces a number of issues was “only logical”, according to Rutte, considering how young its democracy is.
Rutte said his impression is that President Zuma is very aware of South Africa’s challenges and is “trying to take firm steps to tackle particularly inequality and youth unemployment”.
He met Zuma for the first time at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos earlier this year and has spoken to him on the phone a few times, he said.
The Netherlands expects four times as many refugees as normal to arrive in the country this year, or more than 50 000. “Immigration really is an issue. A lot of people are worried about safety, jobs and housing,” said Rutte.
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