Alphonsus Stoelinga has been the Ambassador of the Netherlands to India since 2012. An exclusive interview with him. Excerpts:
You have been Ambassador of the Netherlands to India since August 2012. How has been your experience here?
I am very happy to be posted here and it has been an enriching experience all through. I feel lucky to be the Netherlands’s Ambassador to India at this point of time: in 15 years India will have the largest population and one of the largest economies in the world.
The Netherlands economy depends for 50% on our international business and so India is a crucial country for us. Luckily enough we are no newcomers here. Dutch traders arrived four centuries ago on the shores of the subcontinent. Today we are the 5th largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for India, accounting for 6 percent of total inflows into India in the last 15 years.
Twenty per cent of all India’s exports to Europe enter through the Netherlands. Vice versa: India is our 5th largest source of FDI. Indians really see the Netherlands as the hub for their investments in and exports to Europe.
The relationship between the Netherlands and India has grown from strength to strength and based on a strong common history the future looks bright for Indo-Dutch relations. The Embassy network of the Netherlands will keep contributing to intensify this relationship and you can count on our support to tap into unexploited opportunities.
Demonetisation was a major step from the Indian government. Did it affect economic and commercial ties between India and Netherlands in anyway?
Demonetisation is indeed a big reform and is expected to have a huge impact. Overall, this move should improve India’s position in enabling higher capital flow (FDI/FII) into India and vice versa. It will give a sharp boost to all formal
channels of payments (a shift from cash economy to cashless digital economy), which in turn will help the formal economy to grow at a faster pace in the long term.
One of the benefits will be higher tax revenues. In The Netherlands, the tax revenues account to 42 percent of our GDP. In India, tax revenues are only 15 percent of GDP.
It will not affect the economic ties between India and The Netherlands adversely.
What role does the Netherlands plays in India’s growth story?
The Netherlands is one of the pioneers in Smart City technology. We have a very interesting tool, called ‘Partners in International Business”, which is subsidised by the government. Companies come together in various fields to enter into new markets.
Moreover, we are trying to bring together Dutch and Indian academics and link them with the business consortia to jointly develop innovative technologies that could be used to address societal issues in India. We have a waste management cluster of Dutch companies that is active in Dharamsala, where we are working on Smart City Development.
The import and export trade figures between India and The Netherlands is around 4.5 billion euros.
The investment climate has definitely improved in the last few years. Several interesting measures taken up by the current goverment like ‘Make in India’, ‘Develop and Skill in India’, ‘Digital India’, and ‘Clean India’ ensure that Dutch FDI inflow will keep increasing.
The Indian economy is growing at a steady pace and flagship projects of the current government such as Smart Cities Initiative and Clean Ganga project offer multiple opportunities for Dutch companies. Large investments in infrastructure, health care and agriculture also offer Dutch companies plenty of opportunities.
The tripling of the number of daily direct flights between The Netherlands and India with the start of Jet Airways’ daily flight to Amsterdam from New Delhi and Mumbai of course adds to the ease for Dutch companies to do business in India.
Are we seeing more Indian companies make your country as their home?
It is true that a lot of Indian companies are finding their way to The Netherlands and setting up their base there. Over 174 Indian companies currently have their presence including Tata, Apollo, Wipro, Infosys, HCL and Sun Pharma. Small and medium size enterprises are also constantly growing.
The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), based in India and having two dedicated teams, both in Delhi and Mumbai, is
making Indian companies’ access to The Netherlands easier.
They are informing Indian companies about the conducive and investment friendly policies and opportunities, benefits and tax structure and connecting them with the local authorities.
We would like The Netherlands to be a hub for Indian products that are entering the European market, be it through the ports of Rotterdam or Amsterdam or Schipohol airport. The highest increase in volume at Schipol over the last year is traffic between India and The Netherlands. This is testimony to the fact that Indians are feeling at ease in The Netherlands and our facilities are better as compared to other markets.
How far can your country go to help India access clean energy for sustainable development with technological upgradation?
The Netherlands aims to have a sustainable, reliable and affordable energy system by 2050. As part of this, the Dutch aim to cut CO2 emissions by half, and to generate some 40 per cent of electricity from sustainable sources such as wind at sea and biomass by that time.
The Dutch have leading expertise in areas such as offshore wind energy, co-combustion of biomass in coal-fired power plants, methods to pre-treat biomass and smart grids and solar energy as a renewable energy solution. Indian expertise in turn excels in applying these high tech solutions in a cost-effective manner.
The Indian and The Netherlands government have signed an MOU for intensifying cooperation between both the countries on renewable energy. Under this agreement, an Indo Dutch Joint Working Group was set up for exchange of technical and institutional knowledge on clean energy.
There is great potential for off-shore windmill parks in India. Besides, solar energy offers huge possibilities in India, as it has sunlight in abundance and solar panels could be relatively easy to install on the rooftops of existing buildings all over the country.
India and Netherlands had great potential for enhancing cooperation in promoting renewable energy and we are willing to offer all possible assistance for the purpose.
The Netherlands has done well in handling floods. How can India benefit from Dutch experience?
Water defence strategies are integral to the history of the Netherlands, which claims of co-operation, of adapting to changing situations, of inventing and reinventing, of experimenting and innovating. Against all odds, we have protected our country from the rivers and the sea.
Even the US requested Dutch help for flood management after hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, which is evidence of our proficiency in the field.
The Netherlands offers innovative and sustainable solutions to Indian challenges. In addition to the Clean Ganga Project, India and the Netherlands are also collaborating to clean the Yamuna.
A consortium of scientists from IIT-D and TERI have teamed up with their peers from the Delft University of Technology, Wageningen University and the VrijeUnversiteit Amsterdam to set up a network of sewage treatment plants that will clean waste water in Delhi’s Barapullah drain.
Additionally, a team of water experts from Witteveen+Bos visited Alappuzha in Kerala to develop short-term and long-term sustainable solutions for the quality of canals in the city. The Netherlands is also in collaboration for inland water transportation and management in West Bengal. It seeks to actively contribute to the field of water management in India.
Indo-Dutch bilateral relations have been smooth. Where does the convergence of interests lie?
The bilateral relations between The Netherlands and India have continued to develop and gain momentum over the past few years. We have vibrant bilateral relations on all fronts, be it economic, agriculture, technical and scientific cooperation.
In 2015, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte led a delegation of over 80 companies and 20 CEOs of large Dutch corporations. There is a roadmap for collaboration in infrastructure, water management, agriculture, smart cities and renewal energy. In fact, it is a two-way street of cooperation and business. A lot of Indian companies are also investing in The Netherlands.
Does The Netherlands have an open door policy for Indians?
The Netherlands has the second largest Hindustani diaspora in Europe. It is home to 220,000 Indian and Surinami Hindustani diaspora, one that helps strengthen linkages between the two nations.
Our focus is on students and in recent years, we have been successful in attracting a lot of Indias, which is of great importance for an internationally oriented country like the Netherlands. English is widely spoken in The Netherlands and the courses are in English. Besides, the cost of living and rentals are low as compared to UK and the US. Currently there are around 3,000 Indians staying in the safe and comfortable environment of The Netherlands, which adds to the Hindustani diaspora.
The number of Indian tourists to The Netherlands has increased considerably since last year. It is already a huge attraction for the well-heeled Indian traveller.
We must give merit to our quick and affordable public-transport system. They connect most major cities under an hour by train.
India and the Netherlands had set up a joint working group on terror. Your views on terror attacks in India?
Both India and The Netherlands have indeed been on the receiving end of terrorist attacks for too long a period. The 2008 Mumbai attacks were indeed a particularly horrific attack. It is only natural that during his visit our Prime Minister paid his honours to the victims by laying a wreath at the memorial site in the TajMahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.
In response to the terrorist threat faced by both countries, during that same visit, India and The Netherlands agreed to set up a joint working group on counter terrorism. These kind of bilateral cooperation agreements, as well as multilateral ones, are essential in sharing knowledge and ideas in order to better counter terrorism.
It is of course the case that both India and The Netherlands each have their country-specific threat situation; this is something which is specific to each and every country. At the same time, terrorist tactics and other practices are in large part generic phenomena. It is these aspects which make that international cooperation in this area can be immensely fruitful.