Netherlands Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark

Ploumen calls for equitable economic growth

The world has seen a considerable reduction in extreme poverty since the turn of the century. Yet the gap between rich and poor has widened. Greater inequality prevents people from building a decent life, stunts economic growth and leads to conflict – on top of the violence that has already forced more than 60 million people worldwide to abandon their homes. In her policy agenda for 2016, foreign trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen shows an even greater commitment to curbing the downward spiral.

‘Everyone must have equal opportunities,’ says Ms Ploumen. ‘Countries seek economic growth, but they should also make sure growth is equitable. With an approach combining aid, trade and investment, the Netherlands aims for economic growth that benefits everyone – in the Netherlands and elsewhere.’ The effects of increasing inequality are felt most keenly in developing countries. Too few people have benefited from the growth the world has seen in the past 20 years. ‘Countries have become wealthier, but many people haven’t benefited at all. If we are to help another billion people escape from poverty in the next 15 years, we will have to focus much more sharply on this issue.’

Dutch investment over the next few years in reducing extreme poverty and in state-building in fragile countries will also help reduce inequality. By entering into innovative partnerships with Dutch civil society organisations, Ms Ploumen wants to help people in developing countries stand up for their rights, promote women’s rights and devote more attention to the position of young people. She is also committed to tackling the exclusion of marginalised groups, such as disabled people, indigenous communities and gays and lesbians. Around €350 million will be earmarked for promoting inclusive economic growth. Partnerships with the business community play an important part. ‘Businesses possess expertise and networks which we should use. And they can create jobs for people from vulnerable groups,’ the minister says.

Migration

Inequality is also one of the root causes of irregular migration. The Netherlands wants to prevent people from setting out on the gruelling and often life-threatening journey to Europe. ‘A growing number of talented young Africans no longer feel they have a future in their own countries’, says Ms Ploumen. ‘They have no opportunities and wealth is not distributed equitably. We need to work with other countries to change this.’ She has now released €50 million to promote enterprise and vocational training in a number of African countries. She has called on the EU to contribute. The EU is currently considering a proposal submitted by the Netherlands, Germany and France for a fund of €500 million to create jobs for young people in Africa.

At the same time, countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are sheltering many refugees should be given more support. The government recently released an extra €110 million for the reception of Syrian refugees in the region, bringing its total contribution this year to around €200 million.

Emergency aid

The Netherlands plays a pioneering international role in modernising emergency aid and improving its effectiveness. Some time ago, the government increased the emergency aid budget in a bid to meet the challenges posed by major humanitarian crises. More than €350 million will be available in 2016. The rising number of refugees and displaced people in the world gives particular cause for concern. ‘Never before have we been confronted with so many severe humanitarian crises at one time, and the system is tottering. That is why it is important not only to contribute funds, but also to look at how we can raise the efficiency of our aid efforts, for instance by working with businesses,’ says Ms Ploumen. The Netherlands is closely involved in the preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in 2016.

Trade and investment

The Netherlands earns a third of its income abroad, accounting for more than two million jobs. Promoting Dutch exports will therefore continue to be one of the minister’s priorities. ‘Companies here make great products and have expertise that many countries are eager to share,’ she says. We will continue to support them in exploring new markets and opportunities. This is good for our economy, good for our workers and good for other countries, too.’ Corporate social responsibility is a key theme. ‘Our businesses are not only interested in making a fast profit, but also in contributing to the communities in the countries they operate in. And these are countries where inequality and poverty are rife. We want to work together to ensure that people can earn a decent income, in safe and sustainable conditions.’

In the next few months Ms Ploumen will be leading trade missions to several countries, including China, Turkey and Cuba. ‘We will devote special attention to SMEs,’ she says. ‘There are still many opportunities for these businesses, especially in emerging economies. Trade missions open doors that would otherwise remain firmly shut.’

Through the EU, the Netherlands is working for a level international playing field for businesses, and for better international rules, such as the TTIP agreement between the EU and the United States.

The Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation budget totals €2,687,000,000.