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Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner of the American Chamber of Commerce
23 January 2012, The Hague.
Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Last November I crossed the Atlantic to visit President Obama. It was my first visit to the White House, but by no means my first visit to the US. It’s always been a favourite destination of mine, because the US, New York especially, fascinates me. I love the culture of optimism and the faith in progress. The constant drive to do business and succeed. And of course the Americans themselves, who radiate this spirit all day, every day. It fills you with energy. And I’m a fan of American politics, too. I’m looking forward to the presidential election campaign, which we can follow day by day in the Netherlands.
In the White House President Obama and I of course discussed the global economic crisis, the subject at the top of everyone’s agenda these days. The key word was ‘jobs’. But we also had time to reflect on over 400 years of good relations between our countries. And on our outstanding trading ties, given an extra boost for the past 50 years by the American Chamber of Commerce.
The American Chamber of Commerce opened for business in the Netherlands in 1961. The Dutch economy had fully recovered. Thanks in part to the Marshall Plan. In the 1950s and ’60s our economy grew almost non-stop, and unemployment fell to almost zero. And we began to look to America. Refrigerators, television sets and cars also began to find their way into Dutch homes. And as our prosperity increased, our self-confidence rose, almost to American levels. No wonder Americans thought there was money to be made in a country like ours. And they were right.
Even in today’s difficult economic climate, I’m glad to say, American interest in the Netherlands has not declined. Far from it. The US today invests more in the Netherlands than in Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. Around 1,800 American companies are currently active in this country. They are benefiting fully from our favourable business climate, our strategic position, our competitive tax regime and our innovative technology base. It helps that 85% of Dutch people can speak English, so you don’t have to strain your throats with our ‘g’s’. Unless of course you expats end up in Scheveningen; there I can’t help you.
And US interest in the Netherlands is matched by Dutch interest in the US. We are the third-largest investor in the US. Dutch investments are responsible for 625,000 American jobs. And in our country, US investment has created 225,000 jobs. President Obama and I are in full agreement: in times like these, preserving and creating jobs must be our absolute top priority.
So we have to keep working towards this. Fortunately, we have plenty of opportunities. The Netherlands’ great dream is a comprehensive free trade zone uniting the US and the European Union. That’s something we can’t achieve without the business community. So join with us in thinking about this, not only for us, but also in your own interest. This free trade zone would give a tremendous boost to innovation, growth and employment on both sides of the Atlantic.
Though I realise we can’t achieve this overnight, during my visit to Washington we did take another step forward towards closer cooperation. I mean of course the big CEO Roundtable that will be held later this year. So many US and Dutch business and government leaders together in one room will, I’m sure, generate new ideas, and above all new investments. So the American Chamber of Commerce has a busy period ahead!
Now before I round off, I must pay tribute to the work of the American Chamber of Commerce in another field. Because your involvement in our country does not stop at purely commercial activities. Through the programme ‘Champs on Stage’, you link up students in vocational education with American companies. In this way you make an important contribution to preventing school dropout in the Netherlands. Speaking as a former State Secretary for Education, I think that’s fantastic.
Ladies and gentlemen,
After my visit to President Obama I left the US, as always, full of energy and new ideas. And President Obama made me a promise: to visit the Netherlands when he can. I look forward to welcoming him here. His exact words about the Netherlands were, and I quote: ‘All reports are that it is beautiful and the people are wonderful.’ It wouldn’t surprise me at all if those reports came from you. Because the American Chamber of Commerce has an unequalled ability to make people enthusiastic about coming to the Netherlands. Thanks to you, for 50 years Americans have been making their American dream come true here in this country. I would like to sincerely congratulate you on your achievement, and thank you for your outstanding work. During the last 50 years the Netherlands has been welcoming American businesspeople with open arms, and we will continue to do so for at least the next 50.
So spread the word and keep up the good work!