Dutch Ambassador in Cairo Han-Maurits Schaapveld has said that Netherlands nurtures opportunities for cooperation in climate issues, water management, and smart agriculture with Egypt in 2022.
The official statistics of the trade exchange between Egypt and the Netherlands in 2021 have not been announced yet, but it is expected to record $2.4bn, Dutch Ambassador in Cairo added.
Daily News Egypt interviewed the Dutch ambassador to learn about the developments of bilateral cooperation between the two counties; the common challenges and goals in 2022. He also tackled the recent technical report issued by the Dutch Foreign Ministry on Egypt, and how the Netherlands could support Cairo in the GERD issue.
What is your assessment of the current Dutch-Egyptian relations?
We have a very strong relationship on all different levels. The Dutch Prime Minister and Egyptian President Al-Sisi had a very good meeting when they were both in Glasgow for COP 26. This meeting is something that we are now building on.
There are a lot of good reasons for very deep relations between our two countries; Egypt is a very important country in the region and it is close to Europe. We both have a big delta, which means a lot of cooperation in climate issues; as we both are afraid of the sea level rise.
The stability of Egypt in such a disturbed region is very important for us, given the conflicts in Palestine-Israel, Libya, and Ethiopia. We hope that with a number of discussions and development cooperation, the stability of Egypt would extend to the rest of the region.
At the same time, Egypt is developing very actively its infrastructure, economy, and society, where both countries can cooperate in trade, investment, and knowledge/ experience exchange.
What are the Netherlands’ priority cooperation files with Egypt in 2022?
We have been cooperating with Egypt in water, irrigation, and food security for many years. This will definitely go on. We are very active in water issues and, ofcourse, the Nile is so important for Egypt.
In 2022, we will focus on climate issues, including water management and smart agriculture.
We are definitely going to look at youth. With so many young people in Egypt, there is a lot of potential on the one side, and possible problems on the other side, but it is definitely something to be interlinked with the climate. The whole idea is to change the situation for a better future, and that is where the youth come in, alongside other important issues like women’s rights.
Speaking of youth, how did you see the World Youth Forum (WYF) 2021?
I think the WYF was a very good conference. It witnessed a huge turnout. I was very impressed by President Al-Sisi as he was involved in the whole four-day activities, and I think he gave some important statements during the event.
Next year, we definitely want to have a bit more contact with the Dutch participants in the WYF to get more feedback from inside the conference. As a diplomat, you could go to a conference, but you would not know everything that is happening there, especially in a youth conference. I believe a lot of things happen on the sidelines, which the youth care more about than big meetings.
What can the Netherlands contribute to COP 27?
Several Dutch ministers, including the prime minister, will attend the event. The COP 27, as far as we know, will concentrate on climate adaptation. One aspect of the climate debate is climate mitigation: we know the climate is going to change, but we want it to change less by stopping coal factories and other bad ways of using the Earth’s resources. The other aspect is climate adaptation: learning how to cope with the effects of climate change. The Netherlands can help in that part as we have been very active in climate adaptation. We held a big climate adaptation summit last year, which was online due to the pandemic, and the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Egyptian Minister of Environment participated.
You mentioned that the key priorities for 2022 are climate change and women empowerment, so what are the coming projects in these areas?
We are very active in the financial inclusion of women, especially in rural areas. Our projects aim to help women get their financial independence and also support their families.
We consider a project to fight FGM in Egypt. We also cooperate with the Population Council to do some extra studies on the role of women in the society and how we can help them.
At the same time, I am the EU Gender Champion in Egypt, and together with the EU ambassador, we are participating very actively in promoting women’s rights and fighting violence against women.
How much is the Dutch FDI in Egypt? What are the main challenges that prevent Dutch companies from investing in Egypt?
We are the world’s seventh largest investor in Egypt and the second from Europe. The value of our investment in Egypt is worth $10bn in 2020. We have around 650 Dutch companies trading with Egypt.
We want to see Dutch companies investing in Egypt. The Embassy is continuously trying to convince the Dutch private sector to come and invest in Egypt.
We always communicate with the Egyptian government, for example, about trade barriers, as some regulations on customs, imports, and taxes are not always clear. There are also concerns about the stability of regulations. For Dutch companies which want to trade in Egypt, especially those willing to also invest, it is very important to be assured that business regulations are stable.
Also, sometimes Dutch companies suffer from inaccurate tax calculations, which force them to negotiate with concerned authorities and adjust their situation. This process takes time and money. Big companies can do it, but small ones may give up and leave.
We also have situations in which Dutch companies are at a disadvantage for following the rules. For example, Egypt adopted the e-invoice system, which is going to be a big advancement, and many Dutch companies registered with the new system, but their competitors did not. Such systems require regular update and follow-up, which is not easy and takes time.
We are now considering opportunities in port development (Alexandria, Damietta, and Port Said). Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe and it has different options. We will see how the Dutch companies can cooperate with their Egyptian counterparts.
What are the promising sectors in Egypt, in your opinion?
The promising sectors are sustainable agriculture, water management, logistics, and renewable energy.
The Netherlands has a good reputation in the logistics field, so how can Egypt benefit from your expertise?
We can help by attracting Dutch companies to work here, using Dutch logistical equipment for their own distribution, which we already did.
At the same time, we should work together to explore opportunities, starting on a small scale with projects in Upper Egypt in irrigation and food security. Food security also includes the logistics of transferring food products to the market.
Moreover, we have a programme in cooperation with MOIC and AlexBank called “Orange Corners” to help Egyptian start-ups that work on apps to interlink the farm with the markets, internally and abroad.
Netherlands is the second-largest exporter of agriculture in the world, how can Egypt benefit from the Dutch expertise in this field?
This can happen mainly through development cooperation. We have a big programme with the World Food Programme in Upper Egypt. It starts with irrigation, and then it gets into land consolidation, as agricultural lands in Egypt got smaller over the years. We bring 20 or 60 farmers to work together on a big piece of land, where of course they can invest more. The same thing happens with managing the waste coming from sugarcane and other crops. We also bring in new seeds and a better scrum-based framework for animal farming.
Also, we have a number of seed producing companies which are investing here and training Egyptian farmers.
The Netherlands is also advanced in technology, what are the opportunities for cooperation with Egypt in this field?
We receive at least 400 Egyptian students every year in the Netherlands, a lot of them study in technology institutions.
Egypt is actively developing its IT sector, and we are considering importing some IT products from Egypt, or doing some outsourcing of our IT business in Egypt.
Robotics is a very important sector now in the Netherlands, especially in health, transport, the oil and gas sector and logistics. We are already working with Egypt in this field. Now, a doctor in Holland can do an operation in Egypt, thanks to robots and technologies, but also with the help of a local surgeon who could follow instructions.
Dutch exports to Egypt in 2021 recorded $1.8bn, while Egyptian exports to the Netherlands reached $600m. The difference is huge, so how can we balance the trade exchange?
Yes, it is big, but the idea is that it is already changing, and that Egypt is now exporting more. Egyptian exports to the Netherlands two years ago were $400m.
If Dutch companies invested in Egypt, this would increase exports. Egypt exports a lot of fruits and vegetables. If Dutch seed companies worked here and improved the quality of seeds, Egypt would export more.
I think you can export everything if the quality is good and stable. The Dutch market prefers to import from countries where the quality is 365-day good, and the quantities are reliable.
Could you elaborate on the Egypt-Netherlands cooperation programme with regard to immigration, especially as the Dutch Minister of Migration was here late September? Why is the number of illegal immigrants still high?
We have a very big programme called PROSPECTS, which aims to support migrants in Egypt and some other countries in the region, especially in health, education, employment, and protection. PROSPECTS is a new Partnership initiative that has been launched, and spearheaded by the government of the Netherlands and bringing together the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank. The programme’s value is estimated at €500m, and lasts for several years.
We are not sending the migrants back. The idea is to help Egypt cope with the high level of migration. A number of the migrants are official refugees, and they fall under UNHCR. But a lot of the migrants are from other countries and don’t fall under the refugee criteria. The programme also helps some of those migrants go back to their countries.
Egypt is doing a very good job in stopping illegal immigration as much as possible. And we are already working very hard together on this issue. On top of that, the Dutch Minister of Migration was here to discuss more cooperation on this issue.
We also are working on a center/programme to help prepare Egyptians for skilled migration if they want, through giving vocational training to give them the skills needed in Holland. Before going to NL, we ask them why they want to leave their country, and if they are well educated people, we discuss with them the option to stay and support Egypt, instead of going to the NL.
How do you view Egypt’s new National Strategy for Human Rights?
It is a very big step for the country. Many countries don’t have a national human rights strategy. So I think it is a very clear sign that the government wants to make efforts on human rights.
It covers a lot of sectors including gender. I think it is very important that the government also focuses on other issues, including freedom of expression and media, and pre-trial detention.
We want to support in implementation, through working together with the National Council for Human Rights on this strategy. We are looking forward to see the strategy implemented on the ground.
Egypt announced that it would cancel the state of emergency, how do you see this decision?
Itis an internal affair, but I would say that there were reasons to have the state of emergency in the first place. I think we can all be very happy that those reasons are less or ended. Cairo is safe, and most of Egypt is safe, and I can understand very well the reason to stop the state of emergency. Some of the rules under the state of emergency are going to be incorporated in certain laws, which I think also with the implementation of the Human right strategy will be addressed in the future.
How do you see the report issued by the Dutch Foreign Ministry on Egypt? Will it impact our relations?
It is not a statement of the ministry. It is a technical document, which the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs made at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Justice, to have more information in court cases of asylum seekers. We have a lot of migrants coming to the NL who ask for refugee status. So to make a good evaluation, you need to have information about the country. So the Ministry of Justice requested that information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a technical document, not a policy document. It is not the basis of how I operate here or how my prime minister sees Egypt.
Believing in transparency, the Netherlands released this document online. We were surprised by the reaction on the document. It was the first time to witness a reaction from the local media on such information. We released the same kind of document in other countries, including China, Turkey, Colombia, and Venezuela, and it was always recognized as technical information.
I am sure it will not impact our relations, especially after the meeting between President Al-Sisi and the Dutch prime minister, which clearly showed how good our relationships are.
How do you see the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute? And how can the Netherlands support Egypt in this issue?
The Netherlands has been supporting Egypt over the last 40 years, talking about the Nile and studying the Nile, seeing what can be improved. We have offered to do a lot of the technical preparations in the discussions between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. So we are ready to help and to support any discussions with a lot of technical knowledge, if the three countries agree. In the meantime, we are working with Egypt on improving the use of water.
What about the Dutch embassy’s four-year strategy which will end in 2022?
We are going to develop a new one. Egypt has evolved in the past four years, but has not changed that much. A lot of the questions and problems are the same. The Netherlands also has not changed that much. So it is logical to go on a bit in the same line. But we just had a new government in the Netherlands, which means that a new minister has to come up with a new policy, and that policy will get translated into what the Embassy is going to implement.
We are already evaluating and discussing the needs and the opportunities in Egypt, and then we have to wait till we get the policy from the new government. Only then we can make the new strategy.