Netherlands has many advantages as a partner for Albertans

Netherlands has many advantages as a partner for Albertans

By Kathy Kerr

It’s early in the courtship, but Canada and Netherlands are flirting with what could be a major plant-protein relationship.

There is already an affinity between the two nations built on Dutch immigration to Canada and the role of Canadian troops in liberating Netherlands during the Second World War.

“In Alberta, there’s a large Dutch farmer population which came at two times — one was post war and the other one was the later part of the last century, in the 1980s and ‘90s,” says Norm Janssen, investment attraction manager for Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“There’s a reason why those KLM flights between Calgary and Edmonton and Amsterdam are generally very full. A lot of people travel back and forth, and certainly some of them are businesspeople,” Janssen says.

REASONS TO COLLABORATE

The Netherlands, with its long history as a trade and agriculture powerhouse, has many advantages as a partner and collaborator for Albertans.

The country is the gateway to the European Union. Canada has a multilateral trade agreement with the EU — CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement — which gives Canadian exporters a huge advantage over U.S. producers which don’t have that 12.5 per cent tariff advantage. Trading with the Netherlands opens the door to all the countries in the union.

Carlo Dade

Carlo Dade

“They’re known as a food producer. They have supply and production chains,” says Carlo Dade, director of the trade and investment centre at the Canada West Foundation.

“As an ingredient maker you can get in with a Dutch company and become their supplier of choice because you have superior product, because you’re a nice person and because it’s 12.5 per cent cheaper to buy from you than the guys in North Dakota,” Dade says.

The Netherlands is the second-largest exporter of food in the world. The Dutch are masters of logistics, blessed with ocean ports and being located centrally in western Europe.

“It has to do with the port of Rotterdam, the port of Amsterdam, the port of Antwerp, which is in Belgium but the Netherlands uses it, Amsterdam airport, and logistics expertise,” says Diederik Beutener, Canadian trade commissioner based in The Hague.

“It has to do with the tax situation and trade-enabling tools.”

Beutener adds the Dutch have trade-friendly policies that allow for immediate reimbursement of value-added taxes on shipments and tax advantages for firms that maintain a presence, or have an agent, in the Netherlands.

For firms in the Netherlands, western Canada’s ability to produce large quantities of plant protein is a big draw. Huge European agrifood corporations, many based in, or with major facilities in, the Netherlands, are expanding their plant-protein businesses as global demand skyrockets.

EARLY DAYS

Producers and companies in both Canada and the Netherlands are beginning to have discussions and some are venturing into collaborations.

The Netherlands-based networking firm Bridge2Food held its first plant-protein summits in North America in Saskatoon and Calgary this spring, bringing together interested firms and institutions from both sides of the Atlantic.

Beutener said he was involved with about 28 delegates from the Netherlands who came to the summits.

“They came back with very positive feedback and want to do specific things with Canada.”

But Beutener adds that quite a few of them are still figuring out their strategies on plant proteins.

A major dairy firm, FrieslandCampina, is one such firm, considering its tactics for incorporating plant proteins into its business, including whether to source from Canada, enter into joint ventures with Canadian partners or invest in western Canada. Beutener says three bakery ingredient companies have also approached him about sourcing specific plant proteins in Canada.

Yuri Schaap

Yuri Schaap

Yuri Schaap, a food-processing consultant with Schaap Interim Food Services from the Netherlands, attended the Bridge2Food summits in Canada and now is looking for opportunities here to help ingredient companies take their next steps.

“I’m going to see where the collaborations are and where the win-wins are,” says Schaap, who adds he may set up an office in Alberta.

He says there is a sense of urgency in the plant-protein sector. The contacts he met at the summits “have a strong feel for entrepreneurship, and a willingness to proceed and advance, especially in Alberta.”

Jerry Bouma, a long-time Alberta agrifood consultant, was recently named Edmonton’s honorary consul for the Netherlands. He says there are plans for a high-level Dutch agricultural delegation to visit western Canada in early November.

“There is a growing interest among Alberta players which includes companies, regional development agencies, industry associations and governments, in exploring opportunities,” Bouma says in an email interview.

“That being said, the vast majority of interests remain early stage … It is a bit like a high school dance with everyone attending for the first time (as singles).

“I can also say that for the most part, Dutch companies are not interested in the business of primary processing. Rather their interests lie in understanding the sources of plant raw materials that are or might be available for production of consumer products.”

WHO CAN HELP

For the producer, business owner or industry representative from Alberta, there are a number of government and industry resources that can help with access to potential partners in Netherlands.

Norm Janssen, government of Alberta

Norm Janssen

Beutener says firms can ask a trade commissioner such as himself for contacts and introductions to the big multinationals in Europe.

“I just got a call from an AI (artificial intelligence) firm that used to work with oil and gas, and is now targeting food processors around the world,” he says.

“They asked ‘who do you know and who could you give us access to and maybe ask for a special Amsterdam dinner?’ ”

The role of the honorary consul has changed from a focus on passport and visa issues for Dutch nationals to being devoted to establishing contacts between interested parties and facilitating relationships and business opportunities, says Bouma.

Janssen says his role with the provincial government is also to bring together collaborations involving industry, institutions and organizations, and to understand the needs and growth strategies of the various organizations.

Janssen notes that Dutch investment attraction people in Toronto, social media and networking all add to the mix of finding partners.

HURDLES TO OVERCOME

While there are huge advantages to the Dutch market, it is not without risks.

The Netherlands has centuries of sophisticated trade experience under its belt and Canadian business needs to do its homework.

“It is important for the Canadian industry (and I am speaking about the three Prairie provinces in particular) to assess its own capability and address issues of critical mass. This is why the PIC (Protein Industries Canada) initiative and the role being played by PPAA is important,” says Bouma.

“As an industry we run the risk of being overly eager but fragmented and not aware of our own limitations in our approach to attracting investment. It must be understood that the Dutch industry has a great deal of international experience in market development, financing and assessing the readiness of potential partners.”

Diederik Beutener, trade commissioner

Diederik Beutener

Beutener says that although Canadian firms are improving in ensuring their shipments and dealings meet regulatory and inspection hurdles in the Netherlands, there are still problems, particularly for small and medium enterprises.

“You see some issues our suppliers get themselves into. They can lose big amounts of money due to shipments that get stuck or are taken from them and go into the destruction ovens in Rotterdam because there’s something wrong with the shipment.

“You still have to meet every European food-safety regulation. You will be checked on GMOs.”

Not every product is down to zero per cent tariff yet, either, Beutener says, with some being phased in. Businesses need to check to see if their products are benefiting from CETA.

Dade also points out that smaller suppliers aren’t necessarily the favourites of big multinationals.

“We’ve got to set up structures where we can provide guarantees. One way is small producers can amalgamate and spread the risk among a number of producers.”

Or firms could look at joint production agreements and co-operatives, Dade suggests. “The more we can do on our end to de-risk that transaction for the larger processor, the better we’ll do.”

This story is first in a series exploring the relationships and opportunities with our trading partners. Up Next: Japan

Netherlands Notes

  • The Netherlands is the second-largest agricultural product exporter, after the U.S. In 2017 the Netherlands exported $113.5-billion US in agricultural exports. Those exports include food produced in the Netherlands and food which undergoes some processing in the Netherlands before being exported.
  • The Netherlands is roughly the size of Vancouver Island, with a population of 17 million people.
  • There are more than 5,300 agrifood companies in the Netherlands, according to the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency. Agrifood companies based in the Netherlands including Unilever, dairy firm FrieslandCampina, and agritech research and development firm NIZO.
  • Many agrifood firms are centred in the Food Valley, a region with a high concentration of agrifood business, research and innovation. Food Valley is home to Wageningen University, a university on the cutting edge of plant-protein research and development.
  • The Protein Cluster, based in east Netherlands, is a co-operative project designed to help suppliers of plant-protein ingredients, semi-finished products, consumer products and technologies to develop and commercialize their products.

Netherlands and Canada

  • More than one million Canadians claim Dutch origin, according to the Government of Canada.
  • Bilateral trade between the two countries was approximately $9.2 billion in 2018, with Canadian merchandise exports to the Netherlands at $4.7 billion and imports at $4.5 billion.
  • The Netherlands is Canada’s second-largest source of foreign direct investment. In 2018, the stock of Dutch direct investment in Canada was valued at nearly $106.7 billion. That investment involves many economic sectors, including Shell’s investment in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.

Kathy Kerr, a former deputy and business editor at the Edmonton Journal, is a freelance writer

Posted Oct. 29, 2019

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