Partnerships announced during King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima's recent visit to India indicate that technology and climate change are a strong focus within the India-Netherlands relationship.
On the face of it, the five-day state visit of the King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of Netherlands to India in mid-October may appear to be a routine diplomatic excursion but the context of it in the global landscape makes it interesting.
It is only the second time that the King has paid a visit to India. The first trip happened a good 12 years ago and was a more sombre affair. While only eight Dutch firms sent their representatives with the King to India in 2007, this time the number has swelled to over 150. Further, the presence of Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag, health minister Bruno Bruins and junior economic affairs minister Mona Keijzer elevates the importance of this trip by a few notches.
Despite the geographic remoteness of the two countries, relations stretch back to over 400 years. In 2018-19, bilateral trade between the two countries was $12.87 billion making the Netherlands the fifth largest foreign investor in India. In terms of FDI inflows into India, the Netherlands was the third largest at $3.9 billion in 2018-19.
There are two specific reasons behind the pervasive feeling between business communities in both countries that ties could be strengthened further and more significantly in the near future. The first is the potential change in the way business is done within and outside of the European Union region in the aftermath of Brexit. As the United Kingdom breaks away from the block losing the advantages of tax consistency and no border controls for movement of goods and services within the region, a number of Indian companies that currently operate out of the UK would look at opening newer branch offices in the EU if not shift their operations entirely from the island.
As one of the larger economies of EU and particularly given the strong trade relations with India, there is a sense that Indian companies would be inclined to prefer Netherlands over other countries like Germany, France, Switzerland or Belgium in the region. Already over 200 Indian companies are operational in the country.
“We are committed to bringing in Indian companies to the Netherlands and give them access to the European market. We have noticed that interest of foreign companies in the Netherlands is growing and many companies have already moved to the Netherlands. Currently, there are talks with another 325 companies on transferring their business,” said Sigrid Kaag, the minister for foreign trade and development cooperation for the Netherlands. “We offer a beneficial investing climate and access to 450 million people in the common EU market that makes us a perfect gateway to Europe. We believe the Netherlands is a good fit for India. We have a considerate English-speaking population and a well-developed entrepreneurial community. In addition, we also host a large Indian community, the second biggest diaspora in the world.”
The other area of rich potential for cooperation between the two nations is in tackling climate change. India has been at the forefront of fighting global warming and as one of the earliest signatories to the Paris Agreement of 2015, it has recently reaffirmed its commitment and promised to put in place a long-term strategy by 2020.
The goals are ambitious. To begin with, India wants to increase the share of its non-fossil fuel in electricity generation to 40 per cent, reduce emission intensity of the economy by 30-35 per cent by 2030 over the 2005 levels and create a carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and green cover.
To achieve these, India needs help in technical know-how and Netherlands, which is fighting a direct battle of its own against rising sea levels due to global warming, may have something to offer here.
"India and Netherlands complement each other extremely well and have the potential to make each (other) even stronger. We make a great team," King Alexander said. “We have extensive knowledge in the areas of agriculture, water and climate action and it can be used for finding solutions to some of the problems being faced by India such as flood and drought. I visited a laboratory of an Indo-Dutch project where we are treating dirty water of the Barapullah drain before it falls into Yamuna.
Experts of the two countries have been successful in making the drain cleaner and they are also working to make the water suitable for reuse.” "We respect each other′s knowledge, tradition and culture. There are no standard solutions. Innovation is the product of human effort and that is why it is so important to invest in a long-term relationship in partners you trust, partners who can add value to your excellence. For Netherlands, India is such a partner,” he added.
Technology figures prominently in the eight projects for which partnerships were announced during the visit. These include prevention of pollution and efficient water use in the Kanpur-Unnao leather cluster, healthy villages through primacy health and wellness centres and a waste to wealth project in Hindon on the outskirts of the national capital of Delhi.
“Countries such as ours need to combine forces to seek sustainable answers to pressing global issues. These include poverty, hunger, job creation, energy security, human rights, gender inequality. At the same time, we need to work together on climate change, terrorism, and depletion of natural resources,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan, India's union minister for science and technology, earth sciences and health and family welfare.