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21 Jun 2017

Mamata kicks off Dutch mission

When Dutch football is on the table, can the legends Frank Rijkaard (left) and Ruud Gullit be left out? The two, holidaying in Ibiza in Spain, bumped into each other on Monday and Rijkaard sent this picture to Johan van Gejin, head of international programmes at the Royal Netherlands Football Association, who was at the Bengal-Dutch cooperation ceremony on Tuesday.
Devendra Purohit, TT, The Hague, June 20: The Mamata Banerjee government today kicked off initiatives to woo Dutch capital and expertise to Bengal, exactly a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in The Hague to boost economic relations between the two countries celebrating 70 years of diplomatic ties.
The Bengal government inked a memorandum of association with the Royal Netherlands Football Association to spot, groom and train young football talent in the state.
"This is a significant development; the state capital (Calcutta) will host the under-17 World Cup Football final (in October)," said Rajiva Sinha, the principal secretary in the industries department.
The possibilities of a Dutch touch in grooming footballers in Bengal is indeed good news at a time the state has lost its position of pre-eminence in the game.
It is also true that Bengal's ailing industry needs capital infusion, be it from home or abroad.
Modi - who will be in The Hague on his way back from Washington after his first meeting with President Donald Trump - also needs investment, especially foreign direct investment, to realise his Make in India dream and silence critics who have linked poor growth figures with his government's demonetisation decision.
This means the Netherlands has been able to attract bitter political rivals - Modi and Mamata - for the same mission.
"The timing of the two trips is interesting.... But one should look at the visits as complementary to each other because the Dutch government works at both the central and state levels," said an Indian diplomat.
Sinha said the Bengal government was looking to Europe as part of an attempt to attract foreign investment, especially from the manufacturing sector. In the last two years, business teams from Bengal have visited the UK, Germany and Italy.
Mamata reached the Dutch capital, Amsterdam, last night and kept herself busy tracking the situation in the Darjeeling hills and talking to her lieutenants in Delhi and leaders of other parties to strategise on fielding a Dalit candidate for next month's presidential elections.
But officials in the Bengal government's industry department kept their focus on an investment meet in The Hague.
"We are partnering with VNO-NCW, the largest business chamber in the Netherlands, for a business meet tomorrow.... Our primary focus is the manufacturing sector. Besides, we are looking at opportunities in leather, textile, light engineering, solar and wind energy, logistics and warehousing," Sinha said.
The VNO-NCW can be translated as the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers. It has over 115,000 member companies, of which 80 per cent are small and medium enterprises.
Mamata is in the Netherlands to participate in the United Nations Public Service Forum as a speaker, but sources close to the Bengal chief minister said she was keen to use the opportunity to hold a business meet to promote the state as a business destination. Sinha and his team had then stitched together the business meet for which they have invited participants from both Germany and Italy.
Sources in the ministry of external affairs said Modi too wanted to weave in trips to "one or two more countries" with his first US visit following the change of guard in the White House. The Prime Minister will visit Portugal on his way to the US and halt in the Netherlands during the return journey.
Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders had visited India in May as a prelude to Modi's trip. In The Hague, Modi will meet his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, besides calling on the King.
India and the Netherlands have a long history of business association and the numbers speak for themselves - the bilateral trade volume in 2016 was in excess of 4.8 billion euros and the Netherlands ranked sixth in terms of foreign direct investment in India.
At present, more than 200 Dutch companies - like Shell, Unilever, Akzo Nobel, DSM, Philips, KLM and Rabobank - have a presence in India.
"The focus of the PM's trip would be on water management, urban development and renewable energy, the three areas in which the Dutch have expertise. The objective is to use the Dutch strength to match India's needs.... There can be Dutch involvement in some of the flagship programmes like Swachh Bharat, Smart Cities and Make in India," said Asha Antony, second secretary (political and information) in the Indian embassy in The Hague.

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