Home Top 5 From Vineyards to EU Aspirations: A Conversation with Ambassador Veaceslav Dobinda

From Vineyards to EU Aspirations: A Conversation with Ambassador Veaceslav Dobinda

H.E. Mr. Veaceslav Dobinda, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

As Moldova embarks on a transformative journey toward European Union membership, its strategic positioning between Romania and Ukraine places it at the heart of significant geopolitical and economic shifts. With a rich cultural heritage and a robust winemaking tradition, Moldova is striving to enhance its presence on the European stage while navigating internal and external challenges.

In this exclusive interview by Diplomat Magazine, H.E. Mr. Veaceslav Dobinda, the Ambassador of Moldova to the Netherlands, provides insights into the nation’s aspirations for EU integration, the promotion of its renowned wines, and the impact of regional agricultural bottlenecks on trade. Join us as we delve into the intricacies of Moldova’s path forward and its burgeoning relationship with the Netherlands.

Moldova has recently been granted EU candidate status and has embarked on negotiations for accession. How do you perceive Moldova’s path towards EU integration, particularly in light of the contrasting views within the country regarding alignment with the EU versus strengthening ties with eastern neighbors?

European integration is perhaps the most important foreign policy objective of Moldova, and our government is committed to the ambitious goal of becoming a member state of the European Union by 2030. This is realistic, given that some member states had a much shorter negotiation period for their accession. The process of extensive reforms in all areas of activity must contribute to this rapprochement of Moldova with the European Union and, it will depend on our capacity to implement these reforms, on human and technical capacities, to deliver that approximation of legislation, structural reforms that are needed in various areas (from justice to agriculture), become competitive and ready to join the European Union.

Our commitment to European integration is central to our national agenda. Moldova is undergoing significant transformations. We are enhancing our energy independence, aligning with the European standards, fighting corruption, and reforming our judicial system. And the security situation in the region determines us to speed up the processes.

We have the problem of illegal presence of Russian troops on the territory of Moldova, in the Transnistrian region, that is outside government control. The commitment of the Russian Federation assumed at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in 1999 is not respected and implemented until today, but the citizens understand that the future of the country lies in the European Union, where there is prosperity, peace, tranquility. It is true that we must make diplomatic efforts abroad and as well internally, to be as inclusive as possible for our citizens on the left bank of the Nistru River, and to attract the Transnistrian region with economic advantages. Moldova is offering more and more services to its citizens from this region, and greater economic opportunities, so that they can benefit from the accession process. We will strive to peacefully draw the Transnistrian region into the constitutional economic field of Moldova. The country reintegration must be an international process in which there is consensus among all actors involved.

I am convinced that, as in Romania or Poland, Lithuania or the Czech Republic, but also in the other countries that have joined the EU in the last 20 years, European integration will bring us economic growth and development opportunities. This means more investments and more business tools for companies in our country, as well as the prospect of well-paid jobs and additional revenues to the budget. The new member states also receive financial support to develop their infrastructure – i.e. new roads, modern schools and hospitals of the highest standards. Finally, membership of the European Union will bring us peace and security in the long term, which is what we all want, and

it will ensure the future of the country as a sovereign, neutral, integral and democratic state.

Moldova possess a rich winemaking tradition, yet its wines are not as widely recognized in the EU compared to other wine-producing regions. Could you elaborate on Moldova’s efforts to promote its wines in European markets, including the Netherlands, and any challenges faced in this endeavor?

Moldovan wines have a leading role in the history of the country. Dating from 5000 BC, winemaking is at the heart of Moldovan culture. Renowned for its rich winemaking tradition, Moldova has now positioned itself as the 14th largest exporter and the 20th largest producer of wine globally, contributing around 3% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Furthermore, Moldova proudly holds the title of having the highest number of vines per capita. In addition, Moldovan wines have garnered over 5,014 international awards in the past decade, demonstrating the increasing quality and recognition of their wines on the global stage.

Recently, the emblematic Moldovan red blend Negre by Fautor Winery was awarded as the best red wine in the world. The award was won in one of the most prestigious international wine competitions – “Concours Mondial de Bruxelles”, during the 2022 “Red & White” Session.

As a result of Moldovan wine exports in 2023, our country made a profit of 111 million dollars. Most Moldovan wines were exported to the EU – 45%, 29% to other countries of the world, and 26% to the Commonwealth of Independent States. Among the countries that enjoy Moldovan wines are Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Georgia, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, China and many other countries out of 75 states where our wine is being exported. According to the latest data, 26% of people who left Moldova return to taste Moldovan wine.

Moldova’s annual National Wine Day event has been honored by the prestigious Wine Travel Awards in the category of Wine Tourism Events, and specifically recognized as the “Magnet of the Region”. The accolade was presented during the Wine Travel Awards ceremony, which took place on May 21, 2024, at the London Wine Fair.

Our wines have been no stranger to the Dutch population. Ever since 2018 (at least), our companies have participated in the World Bulk Wine Exhibition (WBWE) in Amsterdam (13 companies participated in the last edition on 20-21 November 2023). In the most recent Sommelier competition in Germany, the Mundus Vini Spring Tasting 2024, our wines won many prizes: 3 Grand Gold, 56 Gold, 37 Silver medals. As well, Moldovan wine has achieved exceptional recognition at the International Wine Challenge 2024 Competition and obtained 70 awards (6 Silver, 21 Bronze medals and 43 Commended awards).

Wine tourism, particularly at renowned sites like Purcari Chateau (we even have a Dutch Ambassador for Purcari Wines – Jan-Jaap Altenburg) and Mileștii Mici Wine Cellars, significantly attract Dutch tourists to Moldova by offering a unique and immersive experience that combines the rich cultural heritage with exquisite wine tasting. The Dutch tourists will surely find Moldova’s picturesque vineyards, historic wine cellars, and the opportunity to sample award-winning wines particularly appealing. I would highly recommend doing so during our Wine Day celebration in autumn, an excellent festive occasion to try our wine.

The recent grain harvest bottleneck in the Black Sea Region, exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, has impacted Moldova’s agricultural exports, particularly sunflower seeds. How is the Moldovan government addressing these challenges, and what measures are being taken to ensure smoother trade routes for agricultural products, especially with regard to exports to the Netherlands?

The war in Ukraine strongly affected the farmers of Moldova, blocking the export of agricultural products to the eastern countries, due to disrupted transport corridors to the traditional export markets.

Two years ago, on May 22, 2022, the European Commission, in collaboration with Ukraine and Moldova, created the Solidarity Lanes to help improve the EU–Ukraine–Moldova transport routes in response to Russia’s illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Initially established to bypass Russia’s Black Sea blockade of Ukraine’s grain exports, today the Solidarity Lanes cover trade across all sectors. They allow Moldova and Ukraine to export all types of goods to world markets while also ensuring crucial imports reach Ukraine. Long-term, they will also play a pivotal role in Ukraine’s reconstruction and further integration into the EU single market. 

As part of its solidarity with the region in the context of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, the EU has adopted a regulation which provided temporary full trade liberalization for Moldovan agricultural products for one year. The measures were first introduced in July 2022, and have been extended until 24 July 2025, representing a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs in our country. 

Liberalization helps the competitiveness of our agricultural exports and helps our farmers identify new markets. While Russia imposes embargoes, the EU remains a solid partner, opening the market more and more. This is another proof of the constant support of the EU for my country and we thank our European partners for their ongoing and reliable help. The EU is Moldova’s biggest trade partner, accounting for 65,4% of its total trade in 2023. Moldova’s proportion of trade with Russia has fallen significantly and now represents only 3.6% of total trade.

From 2022, Moldovan producers can export more fruits and vegetables to the European Union. Thanks to the temporary trade liberalization decision, in 2023 Moldovan farmers did business worth 89.5 million dollars, 129% more than in 2022. Last year, exports of Moldovan agricultural products to the EU have tripled (compared to 2021): grapes – 32.3 thousand tons (15.8 thousand tons in 2021), fresh apples – 13.2 thousand tons (1 thousand tons in 2021), plums – 60.4 thousand tons (25.8 thousand tons in 2021), cherries – 2.9 thousand tons (74 tons in 2021). In 2023, Moldova provided the EU with more than 25% of plum supplies, ranking first among the producing countries, followed by Spain (53.6 thousand tons), South Africa (29.2 thousand tons) and the Netherlands (24.5 thousand tons).

With Moldova’s aspiration to join the European Union by 2030, what potential economic opportunities and challenges do you foresee for Moldovan-Dutch trade relations? Are there specific sectors or industries where increased collaboration could be mutually beneficial for both countries?

One of the most obvious and visible benefits of EU membership for Moldovan citizens is the facilitation of free movement. This will allow Moldovans to travel and work in EU Member States without restrictions, opening new opportunities for employment and professional development. In addition, EU membership will open new doors for Moldovan students, who will have access to Erasmus+ exchange programmes and scholarships, giving them the chance to develop their skills and expand their cultural and academic horizons.

We seek to attract Dutch IT companies to the local “Moldova IT Park”. We offer simplified taxation model (7% tax), virtual operating regime, extended list of IT activities, and easier interaction with authorities. There are currently 10 companies with Dutch capital in the IT Park. Besides, we have one of the largest branches of IT company Crunchyroll (owned by Sony and providing streaming services), which is operating at an extensive capacity in Chișinău.

The first Moldova-Netherlands Business Forum was held in Chisinau on 4-5 October 2023. Now, we wish to return the favour, therefore our Embassy, with the aid of our local institutions, are organizing another Economic Forum in the Netherlands, during “Moldova Days in the Netherlands” event in De Hoge Veluwe National Park (28-30 June 2024).

The Netherlands ranks the 3rd highest foreign investors in Moldova, with a capital of an estimated €520 million. We seek to attract investments in the agricultural sector (smart agriculture), with particular interest in developing cooperation on agriculture & food security, energy, water resources & waste management. Consequently, in order to strengthen and boost our cooperation, during the visit of President Maia Sandu in September last year, we have signed the Protocol amending the Convention between Moldova and the Netherlands for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and capital.

One of our objectives is to have more frequent direct airline connections with the Netherlands by expanding our cooperation with Transavia and KLM companies. Currently, FlyOne is the only airline operating flights from Schiphol Amsterdam to Chișinău, twice a week.

I would like to mention that currently the relationship between Moldova and the Netherlands is at the highest level of cooperation in all areas of mutual interest. We feel both the close attention and strong support from the Dutch side, and we are very thankful for its active role in advancing our reform agenda.

Moldova, settled between Romania and Ukraine, holds strategic significance in the context of Eastern European geopolitics. How does Moldova navigate its foreign policy to maintain balanced relationships with both the EU and its eastern neighbors, particularly in times of regional tensions and conflicts?

Moldova is confronted with unique vulnerabilities and complexities in relation to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has significant effects in the Eastern European region. Being a frontline country, Moldova has faced unprecedented challenges and overlapping humanitarian, economic and energy crises.

At the same time, in such difficult circumstances, Moldova has offered all possible support to Ukraine with emphasis on humanitarian assistance for the huge wave of refugees. And we are very grateful for the assistance that we received from our development partners in this respect.

Amid numerous provocations, the government continues to advance on structural reforms and EU accession. The domestic efforts that are geared towards becoming an EU member state are strongly supported by our partners in the EU and the broader international community. Moldova’s European integration agenda is determined by the country’s commitment to ensure peace, stability and prosperity of its citizens.

We have managed to decouple and build up our resilience and independence from negative trends in the East, and we have connected to the West in multiple domains: trade, electricity and gas networks, green energy and renewables. 

Moldova’s relations with Romania and Ukraine have improved significantly and are the best since independence. The number one priority is to continue and advance our bilateral relations in all areas – economic development, security, and cultural diplomacy – to bring to new heights our cooperation.

Currently, Moldova enjoys enormous international openness, also thanks to Romania, which is our country’s lawyer in Brussels and in other European capitals, and multilateral fora. Bilateral relations are stronger and more effective than ever, Romania being a reliable partner in our European aspirations, and offering support in building capabilities, enhancing resilience of the institutions, but also in the security, economic and regional development fields, with numerous infrastructure projects. Furthermore, Romania is the largest trading partner, with a share of 35.1% of the total exports in 2023, followed by Ukraine, with 14.7% of exports.

As we prepare for Ukraine’s future reconstruction, Moldova stands ready to become a strategic hub for these efforts. We are enhancing our infrastructure—building bridges, roads, and railways—to facilitate the transit of Ukrainian goods and strengthen our own links with the European Union, further integrating Moldova into the European community.

Russian Federation is not an imminent threat thanks to the enormous effort and sacrifice of our Ukrainian neighbors and friends. Initially, in the first weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this threat was very real. Therefore, we will continue to increase our defense capabilities, but also to build partnerships in the field of security with all our friends, to increase the strength of our institutions. And, at some point, Russia will have to recognize the reality and fulfill the obligations it assumed at the international level and respect the position it expresses publicly, that of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova.

Moldova’s EU membership is not just a political choice, it is the only way to protect our liberty, peace and democracy. But it is also an investment in Europe’s collective security. Moldova belongs to the big European family, shares the same democratic values, human rights, rule of law, and it is an active member that works together to make our continent more secure, more stable, and more integrated.

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