Ambassador: U.S., Netherlands More Intertwined Than One Might Think

October 05, 2010

October 5, 2010 — The Netherlands' ambassador to the United States shared some facts at the University of Virginia Monday that may not be common knowledge.

"Did you know that every time you buy a Heineken beer, or Shell gas, or Phillips electronics, or Lipton tea, or even Ben and Jerry's ice cream, you are buying a product that comes from a Dutch company?" Regina Jones-Bos asked.

During an Ambassadors' Speakers Forum talk in the South Lawn Commons Building auditorium, Jones-Bos explained that Ben and Jerry's has been taken over by the Dutch company Unilever.

During her hour-long talk, the ambassador gave a history lesson on the Dutch-U.S. relationship that stretches back to 1614, when Dutch travelers settled in New Amsterdam, which would later become New York. At least 5 million people in the United States are of Dutch heritage, she noted. (There are more than 308 million people in the U.S.)

Since that time, the two countries have enjoyed good relations based upon political and economic cooperation, she continued..

Germany and the United States rank first and second as investment and trade partners with the Netherlands. "We are the third investor in the U.S, after the U.K. and Japan," she said. 

In addition, Jones-Bos noted the Netherlands is the first destination for direct investment from the United States. About 1,750 American firms, including Nike, FedEx and Cisco Systems, have European headquarters or overseas headquarters in the Netherlands.

As a result of the interconnectedness of the Dutch and U.S. economies, the Netherlands has been greatly affected by the recent U.S. financial crisis. "Our economy shrunk by almost 4 percent in 2009 and our debt-to–GDP ratio grew from 61 percent to 66 percent and the budget deficit ended up at about 6 percent," Jones-Bos said.

Since then, the Dutch government has taken measures to cut the deficit. "We are now already down to 4 percent of our GDP, the debt is going down and unemployment is fairly low, at around 5 percent," she said.

She also touched on her country's topography. "We are a delta and have been flooded many times in our history," she said, before describing her country's famous levee and dyke system.

As a result, "When Katrina hit ... we felt very strongly for the people of New Orleans because we've been through that ourselves," she said, noting that her country was quick to offer pumps in the first phase of the rescue effort. Later, Dutch engineers worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and local authorities to find a way to prevent future flooding.

"It's not a little boy with his finger in the dyke, which is what you used to read about here in schoolbooks. It's very high tech," Jones-Bos said to chuckles from the audience. "I think that knowledge and engineers and technology have become a product for the Netherlands as well."

— By Jane Kelly