A FERTILE RELATIONSHIP

Nigeria 2015 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

HE Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on Nigeria and the Netherlands partnering for prosperity.

HE Mark Rutte
BIOGRAPHY
Upon graduating with a degree in Dutch history from Leiden University, HE Mark Rutte joined Unilever, as human resources manager, also overseeing several reorganizations. In terms of his political career from July 2002 to June 2004, he was Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment in the first and second Balkenende governments. From June 2004 to July 2006, he was State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science in the second Balkenende government. From June 2006 to October 2010, he was the leader of the VVD party. And from October 2010 to November 2012, he was Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs in the Rutte-Verhagen government, retaining the positions in the Rutte-Asscher government.

The rise of Africa is a fact. The continent's economic performance is impressive, not least in Nigeria, which shows staggering growth rates of 6% to 7% per year. The Netherlands is delighted that the Nigerian economy—now the 26th largest in the world—has taken off and is experiencing rapid growth year-after-year. Nigeria is already our main trading partner on the African continent. Bilateral trade has tripled over the past seven years, and we would like to continue contributing to Nigeria's growth by fostering mutually beneficial economic ties.

Dozens of Dutch companies are already established and active in Nigeria, not just in the oil and gas industry, but also in agriculture and manufacturing. And more and more Dutch industries are seeking to invest in Nigeria, because they feel that business opportunities are knocking on their door. In order to grasp those opportunities, two things are key: open markets and a diversified economy. We know this from experience.

Firstly, about a third of our annual income derives from international trade and investment. That is why the Netherlands is a strong advocate of keeping borders open and maintaining a level playing field for all businesses worldwide, large and small, so that they can compete in global markets on the basis of their merits. I am convinced that all countries, including Nigeria, can benefit if they adopt this approach.

Secondly, a diversified economy is key for each country to be able to compete on the increasingly sophisticated and innovative global scene. In the 1970s, our own economy was far from being as dynamic as it is today. Our gas reserves made us complacent, and it took a great deal of political will and far-reaching reforms to create the export-oriented economy we have today.

So I applaud the fact that diversifying the Nigerian economy—in agriculture, technology, retail trade, finance, and services—is one of the Nigerian government's main priorities. The challenges ahead include achieving equitable living standards for all Nigerians and strengthening the rule of law, which will also help to attract foreign investors.

My government expects Dutch companies to comply with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is part of our business case. The Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW), which is comparable to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), has embraced CSR as a basic principle of sustainable business. FrieslandCampina, for example, is promoting the further development of Nigeria's dairy industry by working with cattle-breeding Fulani communities. Many other Dutch firms have similar projects in Nigeria and other countries. Sustainable growth requires inclusiveness, and CSR is a key tool for attaining it.

At the governmental level, too, Nigeria and the Netherlands are partnering for prosperity. In the spring of 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan visited the Netherlands. In June Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation headed a business delegation to Lagos. Some 35 Dutch entrepreneurs from the agrifood, maritime logistics, and life sciences and health sectors met with Nigerian counterparts. The mission immediately led to more economic collaboration and new opportunities.

So let us further deepen our relations, step up our political and economic contacts, and keep building mutual trust and understanding. I look forward to contributing to these goals and I am convinced it will be to the benefit of both our peoples.