The Business of Maintaining Effective Cooperation
By H.E. Mr. Jose Eduardo Malaya, Ambassador of the Philippines
In a world where relationships are increasingly seen as cursory and fleeting, there is something to be celebrated when a partnership reaches 70 years. This year, 2021, the Philippines and the Netherlands commemorate 70 years of diplomatic relations.
Of course, actual people-to-people interactions began more than 400 years ago, when Olivier van Noort of Rotterdam led Dutch ships to the Philippine islands in search of spices, and some say, colonial conquest. Yet, like all relationships that reach the platinum milestone, it is a fine time to undertake an assessment of this relationship.
Diplomatic relations require constant tending and unceasing determination by the partner countries for it to remain productive. This is particularly true at this time of intense competition for resources and of complex geopolitical, economic and environmental challenges.
Last November 2020, the Netherlands published its Indo-Pacific Guidelines for strengthening Dutch and EU cooperation with partners in Asia. This pivot towards Asia highlighted a reinvigorated cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the Philippines, and identified priority areas of practical cooperation. Both the Dutch and EU policy papers vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific—the latter published in September this year—emphasized the importance of ensuring the growth and development, peace, security, rules-based international order, and stability of the region. This is borne of the realization that the Indo-Pacific region has become the world’s strategic and economic center of gravity, as EC Vice President Joseph Borrel noted.
The Philippines has a big role in this region-to-region interface as coincidentally it recently assumed the role of country coordinator of the ASEAN-EU relations up to 2025. It is in the interest of the Philippines and the Netherlands and EU to maintain open economies and societies that allow for relatively free movement of goods, services and peoples.
Notwithstanding the 10,581 km distance between the two countries, the Netherlands has historically been one of the top economic partners of the Philippines. The Netherlands has been among the five top investor countries in the Philippines, and at USD 245 million in 2020, was the number one among the 28 EU member states. In 2019, Netherlands was the country’s 9th export market, with exports valued at US$1.9 billion and growing. As countries with significant maritime interests, cooperation in the area of maritime sphere is robust, with some 22,000 Filipino seafarers onboard Dutch-flagged vessels that ply the waters of the world. Some 41,313 Dutch tourists visited pre-pandemic and enjoyed our pristine beaches and shopping centers, and we would like to see them back once leisure travels normalize.
Dutch businesses abound in the Philippines. These include the ING Bank, Shell, East West Seed, Vroon (shipping), Regus (serviced office spaces), and Alaska Milk, a Philippine brand acquired in 2018 by FrieslandCampina based in Amersfoort for US$ 400 million. Even at this time of pandemic, dredger vessels from the Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, one of the world’s leading dredging and heavy lift companies, are busy in the Manila Bay undertaking land reclamation and development for the new Manila international airport being developed by the San Miguel Aerocity Inc. The project, which is worth EUR 1.5 billion, is the biggest in Boskalis’ history.
Meanwhile, priority sectors where Dutch businesses could invest in include agribusiness/agriculture, energy efficiency technologies and renewable energy, infrastructure/public-private partnership projects, information technology and business process management, manufacturing, oil and gas, aerospace, processed and specialty food, and retail.
The coronavirus pandemic underscored the vulnerability of states to trans-border challenges, as well as the reality that effective solutions are increasingly multilateral in nature and best approached through shared undertakings and commitments. It has also shown that effective bilateral and multilateral cooperation is one that adopts a perspective that benefits everyone. It is no longer enough that there be no permanent friends and only permanent national interests, but that—given challenges such as the pandemic and climate change — global interests should be pursued as assiduously as one’s own national interests.
In this 70th year milestone, it could not be clearer that the role of the Philippine Embassy is to help shepherd initiatives in maintaining the momentum for cooperation at various levels and by various government agencies, business sectors and other stakeholders. It is reassuring that in these 70 years, the ties that bind the two countries have been tried and tested by diverse issues, and found resilient.
In 2020, after 69 years, the Philippines and the Netherlands conducted its first bilateral consultations, which was followed by the second meeting in June 2021. The consultations affirmed the commitment by both sides to work towards strengthening cooperation in the political, economic and socio-cultural areas, and produced a joint work program with emphasis on trade and investments, water management, maritime matters, agriculture, and science and technology.
There is momentum for enhanced, mutually beneficial partnership, and we should sustain it.