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Factba.se: Australia DFAT Country Briefs - Netherlands


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The Netherlands is located in north-western Europe. Its capital is Amsterdam, while the Dutch Government and Parliament are located in The Hague. The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Beatrix the current head of state. Long renowned for its internationalist outlook, the Netherlands was a founding member of the European Union (EU), UN, NATO and OECD. With Belgium and Luxembourg, it is also a member of the Benelux Economic Union.

The Netherlands is host to seven international legal organisations: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, The Hague Conference on Private International Law, the Iran US Claims Tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court, and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The first six are situated in The Hague, as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency, Europol. It is also host to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

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In the Netherlands the political powers of Queen Beatrix, the head of state, are largely ceremonial although the Queen can play an influential role in her capacity as neutral arbiter between political parties in the formation of a new Council of Ministers, or Cabinet.

Effective executive authority in Government is exercised through the Prime Minister, who presides over the Council of Ministers and who is usually the leader of the largest party in the Second Chamber, or lower house, of Parliament. The Council of Ministers usually comprises thirteen to sixteen ministers and a number of more-junior state secretaries. There are three levels of government: national, provincial and municipal. The Netherlands is divided for administrative purposes into twelve provinces, each administered by a directly-elected Provincial Council, a Provincial Executive and a Sovereign Commissioner, who is appointed by royal decree.

General elections for the national Government are normally held every four years, using a system of strict proportional representation. The First Chamber, or upper house, of Parliament, consists of 75 members indirectly elected by members of the 12 Provincial Councils. The Second Chamber of Parliament, which is roughly equivalent to the Australian House of Representatives, has 150 members elected by universal adult suffrage. It alone has the right to initiate legislation and amend bills submitted by the Council of Ministers. Under the system of proportional representation, no single party has ever won an outright majority in the Netherlands, necessitating coalition governments.

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The centre-right cabinet of the minority liberal Christian Democrat (VVD) coalition government was sworn into office by Queen Beatrix on 14 October 2010. VVD Leader, Mark Rutte, is the Netherlands Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen is Deputy Prime Minister. Dr Uri Rosenthal is the Foreign Minister.

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Key objectives of the Netherlands' foreign policy are promoting and defending Dutch prosperity and national security. The Netherlands, which is highly dependent on foreign trade, has a direct interest in and seeks to promote a stable international legal order. It has a long history of promoting human rights worldwide as an essential part of foreign policy. Other foreign policy priorities include addressing global poverty and inequality, climate change and other environmental threats, energy scarcity, international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and human trafficking.

Strengthening regional and global institutions, including the UN, has long been a focus of Dutch foreign policy. The Netherlands is a strong supporter of European integration. It works with European partners to promote prosperity and security, including fighting crime and deterring illegal migration. In addition to its traditional focus on multilateral and regional institutions, the Netherlands has sought to forge strong partnerships with countries that share its western liberal values, including Australia.

The Netherlands is a significant aid donor, committing 0.75 per cent of GDP to Overseas Development Assistance in 2011. The majority of this is contributed through multilateral organisations including the UN, Human Rights Fund and Stability Fund. In 2011 the Netherlands revised its development policy to focus on four key themes: water, food security, international security and the legal order, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, consistent with the Millennium Development Goals. The Netherlands will target aid to 15 partner countries in the Middle East and Africa as well as Bangladesh and Indonesia. The Netherlands has viewed development cooperation as a vehicle for economic growth with the ultimate aim of countries becoming self-reliant.

The Netherlands' unique geography means it is vulnerable to climate change. It has long seen climate change as one of the major global challenges of our time and continues to be a strong advocate of international cooperation to urgently address it.

The Netherlands is a strong supporter of renewable energy and committed to spend €500 million (A$951 million) over four years (2008-2011) to promote the uptake of renewable energy in developing countries. In 2010, 4 per cent of national energy use in the Netherlands was from renewable sources. The European Commission has set the target for the Netherlands of 14 per cent of energy produced in a sustainable way by 2020. Being heavily reliant on gas, coal and oil for its energy supply, the Netherlands is a strong proponent of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and is a founding member of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute initiated by Australia. The Energy Report 2011 has included CCS as a mechanism to reduce Dutch emissions by 2020.

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The Netherlands is a small, wealthy trading nation. With 16.6 million citizens it accounts for 0.2 per cent of world population, 1.2 per cent of world GDP and 3.6 per cent of world trade. The Netherlands has the 16th largest economy and 7th largest financial sector in the world. It is the world's fifth largest exporter of goods (US$571.9b in 2010) and is the seventh largest importer of goods (US$516.7b in 2010). Trade accounts for almost one third of GDP, as do financial and business services, while industry and retail each account for around 14 per cent. The Netherlands has a comparative advantage in the agro-food industry and agro-food production accounts for around 10 per cent of GDP and about 20 per cent of exports.

The Netherlands was hit hard by the global financial crisis in 2009 but has recovered well. Growth of 1.8 per cent was recorded for 2010, and growth of 1.9 per cent is predicted for 2011. The Netherlands played an important and influential role in the global response to the financial crisis, with many of its ideas and measures picked up by the EU and others, including the G20. The Netherlands sought stronger supervision of the international banking and finance industries, including strengthening of the IMF and other global financial institutions. It also urged the freeing of world trade to stimulate the global economy.

Trade and investment

Trade is an important aspect of the Dutch economy. Most of the Netherlands' trade is with EU countries, especially Germany and Belgium. The US is the Netherlands' largest export destination outside Europe. China is rapidly growing in importance as a supplier. Dutch imports comprise mainly machinery and transport equipment, chemical products, fossil fuels and agricultural products. Russian oil is the largest import item, although computers from China come a close second.

The Netherlands is an attractive destination for foreign investment, given its open economy, outward focus, sound public sector, good social services, modern and effective infrastructure and a dynamic private sector. One in ten private sector employees works for a foreign company. The Netherlands is an important international investor in its own right, being home to a number of large companies with multinational operations, including Royal Dutch Shell, ING Group and Rabobank. The Netherlands has one of the world's most highly developed pension fund industries, with significant levels of private assets under management. In addition, the Dutch venture-capital market is among the best developed in Europe.

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Australia has long-standing, friendly and productive relations with the Netherlands. We share fundamental values and a similar global outlook.

The Netherlands is a valued interlocutor on counter-terrorism matters and has made valuable contributions to the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) founded by Australia and Indonesia in 2004. Australian and Dutch officials from a number of agencies regularly consult on counter-terrorism matters.

Australia and the Netherlands frequently exchange views on a number of global and multilateral issues. It shares many of our views on climate change. It shares our strong commitment to the promotion of human rights internationally. Like Australia, the Netherlands seeks UN reform, including limited expansion of the UN Security Council, and is committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The Netherlands is an important member of the EU and a valuable interlocutor on EU issues. The Netherlands provided good support for Australia ahead of the launch of the Australia-EU Partnership Framework in October 2008. Australia and the Netherlands share many common international trade policy objectives and we value the contribution the Netherlands makes to debate and policy development on trade issues within the EU.

Australia and the Netherlands signed a bilateral social security agreement on 2 July 2001, to give improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and the Netherlands. The social security agreement also exempts Australian employers from the need to provide Netherlands social security support for Australian employees sent temporarily to work in the Netherlands, provided the employee remains covered in Australia, by compulsory superannuation arrangements. Further information is available from the Australian Taxation Office (http://www.ato.gov.au/corporate/content.asp?doc=/content/30936.htm) .

People-to-people links

During the 1950s, Australia was the destination of 30 per cent of Dutch emigrants and the Netherlands-born became numerically the second largest non-British group in Australia. Today over 300,000 Australians are of Dutch descent. ABS migration statistics, in 2006, recorded over 90,000 Netherlands-born people in Australia. Of these, almost 80 per cent were Australian citizens. According to the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics, approximately 15,000 first or second generation Australians live in the Netherlands.

High level visits

-- In June 2011 Defence Minister Stephen Smith met Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation Maxime Verhagen in the Netherlands.

-- In September 2011 and April 2011 Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd met the Netherlands Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal at the UN New York General Assembly meeting and Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative Meeting in Berlin respectively.

-- In June 2009, then Defence Minister Senator John Faulkner met then Dutch Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop in the Netherlands.

-- In March 2009, then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith visited the Netherlands to attend an international conference on Afghanistan. Mr Smith met then Prime Minister Balkenende, then Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, then Development Minister Bert Koenders and then Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop.

-- In January 2009, then Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen visited Australia. In Perth on 19 January, Mr Verhagen and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith opened an exhibition of photographs at the WA Museum titled, "Afghanistan out of the Dust". Mr Verhagen met Prime Minister Rudd and then Defence Minister Fitzgibbon in Sydney on 21 January.

ANCODS Collection

In February 2011 the Dutch Government repatriated to Australia over one thousand artefacts that were recovered from Dutch East India Company Ships that sank off the Western Australian coast in the 17th and 18th centuries. The artefacts were returned under the Agreement between Australia and the Netherlands Concerning Old Dutch Shipwrecks (ANCODS). A Mutual Declaration was signed on 15 September 2010 which acknowledged that Australia would hold the ANCODS Collection but that the Netherlands could borrow it for exhibitions. The Collection is on display at the Western Australian Museum in Fremantle.

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The Netherlands is a significant investment and trading partner for Australia. It is Australia's second largest export market within the EU after the UK. It is home to a number of financial institutions and other companies that operate in Australia including ING Group, Fortis, Rabobank, AEGON, Shell, Unilever, Delta Lloyd, Philips, and Akzo Nobel.

In 2010-11, the Netherlands was Australia's 20th largest merchandise trading partner with total exports and imports of A$4.4 billion. In the same period, the value of Australia's exports to the Netherlands was over A$3 billion. Significant Australian exports to the Netherlands in 2010 included coal, zinc ores, medicaments (including veterinary) and iron ore and concentrates. Significant imports included medicaments (including veterinary), coffee and substitutes, pharmaceutical products, and mechanical handling equipment and parts.

Australian services exports to the Netherlands in 2010 totalled A$467 million, mostly recreational travel. Services imports totalled A$1.25 billion. In 2010 the Netherlands was the fifth largest source of total foreign investment (A$42.4 billion). It was the fourth largest source of foreign direct investment (A$31.1billion) after the US, UK and Japan. The Netherlands was the ninth largest destination for total Australian investment abroad (A$24.5 billion).

Trade and investment opportunities

The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) (http://www.austrade.gov.au/) is the Australian Government's trade and investment development agency. Austrade assists Australian businesses to contribute to national prosperity by succeeding in trade and investment internationally, and promoting and supporting productive foreign investment into Australia. Austrade delivers services that assist Australian businesses initiate, sustain and grow trade and outward investment; promotes Australia as an inward investment destination and, with the States and Territories, supports the inflow of productive foreign direct investment; administers the Export Market Development Grants scheme; undertakes initiatives designed to improve community awareness of, and commitment to, international trade and investment; and provides advice to the Australian Government on its trade and investment development activities.

Austrade maintains a representative office in Frankfurt that covers the Netherlands. Austrade's Opportunities Online website is a valuable starting point for information on export opportunities to many countries, including the Netherlands. For further information please contact Austrade on 13 28 78 or email info@austrade.gov.au (mailto:info@austrade.gov.au).

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Last Updated: November 2011

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