SHARED PAST, SHARED FUTURE

Oman 2016 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Lilianne Ploumen, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on trade and business ties between the two countries.

 Lilianne Ploumen
BIOGRAPHY
Lilianne Ploumen was appointed Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the Rutte-Asscher government in November 2012 and was Chair of the Labor Party (PvdA) from October 2007 to January 2012. Minister Ploumen served as the Head of Quality and Strategy for the development organization Cordaid besides founding Ploumen Projecten, an organization specializing in market research and innovation for commercial and non-profit clients. Minister Ploumen previously held the position of Vice Chair of the Evert Vermeer Foundation, and was a member of the Labor Party’s South-North Committee (advising on international cooperation). She has also been a board member of feminist organization Opzij and Women Inc. and member of the Stop Aids Now! Supervisory board.

What new areas of potential collaboration between the Netherlands and Oman were identified during your April 2015 visit to the Sultanate?

Oman and the Netherlands have a long shared history. Ties between our two countries were first established in 1651, when Dutch traders visited Oman on their way to Persia and the Far East. The aim of my visit was to consolidate our partnership, focusing on infrastructure and logistics. In the Netherlands these industries have been designated as top sectors, or areas of economic activity in which Dutch businesses excel. Recently, the Sultanate identified logistics as one of the main drivers of diversification in an economy that still relies mainly on oil revenues. With this in mind, the Ministry of Transport & Communications drafted the Sultanate of Oman Logistics Strategy 2040, hoping to create 80,000 logistics jobs. Dutch companies can make a valuable contribution. Thanks to the Port of Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands is a logistics hub and, like Oman, a gateway to its region. Many Dutch logistics experts can serve as advisers for this strategy. This shared interest will be developed further in the future. As minister for trade and aid, I believe business is key. But business is more than just profit. Dutch-Omani collaboration goes beyond economic gain. I see great potential in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR); our two countries can help each other promote more sustainable ways of doing business that benefit business, the environment and society. In fact, our embassy in Muscat is currently looking into CSR knowledge exchange and collaboration between Omani and Dutch companies as well as government bodies. We are consulting stakeholders in Oman on the value of establishing a CSR forum in the logistics sector. CSR and logistics are both areas in which the Netherlands is recognized as having considerable expertise.

On that visit, you offered specialized training on logistics and statistics to Omani experts. How will such training facilitate business development between your countries?

The training courses aim to introduce Omani experts to logistics and statistics in the Netherlands. The overall goal is knowledge exchange, but it could open up opportunities for trade, too. We see many other opportunities for knowledge exchange. For instance, Oman's national statistics center has developed impressive apps for phone users that help share statistical information with a broad audience, while Statistics Netherlands has devised a model to calculate logistics' share of GDP. If you combined those two, it would enable Oman to monitor the actual growth of its logistics sector.

The Port of Sohar and the Port of Rotterdam enjoy a strong relationship. Furthering this position, a joint venture has recently been set up between the Omani government and the Port of Rotterdam Authority to develop the Sohar Freezone. What opportunities does this venture afford Dutch companies in Oman?

The Sohar Freezone is part of the Port of Sohar project. It aims to stimulate foreign investors to set up business in and around the port. In addition to the Freezone, a new airport was opened recently. The Port of Rotterdam is in charge of managing the Freezone and is in contact with investors and businesses from around the world to promote investment and economic activity in the area. In recent years Dutch companies like C. Steinweg and Mobilift have set up operations at the port itself and in the vicinity. Sohar Freezone offers incentives that create a highly attractive environment for Dutch companies in which to start and expand their business in Oman. They include tax exemption, no customs duties, no personal income tax, and low capital requirements.