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Ys: Dutch Caribbean isles must foster trade among themselves

~ Suggests formation of kingdom business bureau ~

DAWN BEACH--Former Netherlands Antilles Prime Minister Etienne Ys minced no words when it came to exploring and encouraging trade and business in the Dutch Caribbean, when he said Wednesday that the biggest problem the islands face in progressing economically is their lack of communication.

"The islands are not talking business to each other. We don't have commercial treaties. We don't encourage business with each other," Ys stated at the 18th InterExpo Congress at The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach and Spa.

The former prime minister decried plans by Curacao and St. Maarten to split the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten and possibly create to new currencies for the countries. He classified this pending move as "making doing business more difficult" for investors interested in the two countries.

To achieve more and re-invigorate trade, Ys said economic cooperation among the islands, with the Netherlands and other countries "must be a fix item" on the agenda for all kingdom partners and must take the form of public/private partnership.

He suggested that the partnership takes the form of a "Holland-Dutch Caribbean BV". This will serve as a bureau, similar to a chamber of commerce that will promote international commercial cooperation between and through the countries of the kingdom. The bureau must be politically neutral and give special attention to small and medium enterprises and focus on building relationships with Latin America.

It's time for more action on creating and sustaining trade linkages, he said. "I'm advocating for public and private sectors to sit together."

He pointed out that much can be accomplished when the islands come together, such as the constitutional changes realised in October 2010.

Ys' presentation centred on "Economic Cooperation within the Kingdom - a win-win approach."

He expounded on the Dutch seeing the islands as a hub to the Americas more than 300 years ago, a hub function that still exists, but is not fully utilised in present day with the Dutch Caribbean move away from trade and commerce to development aid in the past 150 years.

There has been "no attention" to trade, particularly in the past decade by the Dutch Caribbean islands. Ys said the islands and the Netherlands have talked about everything from constitutional change to fiscal stability. "But, we have stopped talking trade."

He questioned if the neglect of trade had to do with the Netherlands no longer being a viable international trade country as it was in the past, or whether the islands are no longer fit to be a gateway any longer. Neither of these statements is true, he countered, saying that the Netherlands is still one of the top 10 trade countries in the world, the fifth top exporter, the seventh importer and the 11th international investor, and the islands are still a gateway to the Americas and can become Latin America's hub to Europe.

"Why aren't we talking about cooperation ... We have a partner," Ys, in his customary direct way, told the gathering of business and government representatives from across the kingdom.

The islands are well situated, have good telecoms, rule of law, are part of the Dutch Kingdom, have a well-educated labour force, and are high-income economies among others. "I think the islands are still a hub for the Netherlands and Latin America."

Ys pointed out that building on that hub function is more important now, with the countries closest to the Dutch Caribbean islands "becoming rich." Those potential markets include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

The Netherlands is "not hitting Latin America enough" as its major partners are Brazil and Argentina. However, that's poised to change with the current Dutch Government international business policy focusing on intensifying trade with Brazil, Colombia and Mexico by helping Dutch small and medium enterprises to go international. The Dutch Good Growth Fund will finance these ventures via loans, guarantees and equity participation.

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