First step for islands’ free-trade zone at Kingdom Conference

The Daily Herald writes that the four countries of the Dutch Kingdom are planning to sign a cooperation agreement in the area of competition at the Kingdom Conference in Curaçao on June 16 in anticipation of a Dutch Caribbean freetrade zone.

The website “Doing Business in the Kingdom” will be launched to facilitate trade with and via the Dutch Caribbean. Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk stated this in a letter which was sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Friday regarding the 2015 Kingdom Conference. The Second Chamber meets with Plasterk next Wednesday about the upcoming Kingdom Conference.

In his letter, Plasterk announced that Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands intended to seal a deal in the area of competition (mededinging) which would give a positive impulse to the economic development and cooperation of the countries and strengthen the hub-function of the Dutch Caribbean islands. According to Plasterk, Aruba and Curaçao have nearly completed their legislation in the area of competition. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Market (ACM), a Dutch organisation which ensures fair competition between businesses, and protects consumer interests, will support the overseas countries to set up a Dutch Caribbean freetrade zone. A work group with members of all four Kingdom countries was installed to study the advantages and disadvantages of introducing a freetrade zone and to present recommendations to stimulate trade and entrepreneurship. There is also a work group that is looking at economic cooperation.

“A first analysis of the possible free-trade zone in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom shows that this is a highly complicated affair, especially because of the diversity of financial systems of the individual countries. Further research is needed to get more clarity on the possibilities. Aruba and Curaçao plan to secure an agreement at the Kingdom Conference on the lifting of import duties for locally produced goods,” stated Plasterk. The minister explained that on his request a study took place recently to analyse the experiences of Dutch and Dutch Caribbean businesses as to their trade relations with Latin America, both from the Netherlands and via the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. The study painted a global picture of the existing organisations, instruments and facilities aimed at improving trade, especially with Latin America. The study showed the need for one central organisation aimed at trade with and via the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. The results of this study will be shared at the Kingdom Conference so the partners can decide on which followup steps will be taken.

A first step will be the website “Doing Business in the Kingdom,” which will be launched at the Kingdom Conference. The website will contain information for businesses, investors and organisations about doing business with and via the Dutch Caribbean. Also discussed at the Kingdom Conference will be the steps that the individual countries have taken to improve children’s rights and which actions will be taken for next year. The countries will each present an addendum to the existing Plan of Approach. A decision will be taken on a number of joint actions that will be taken in the area of children’s rights. These actions will include the organising of a safetynet conference on sensible leisure activities and daytime arrangements for children, as well as the installation of an expert committee which will, in consultation with the community, develop a vision on the role of parents in the upbringing of children.

Plasterk couldn’t give any details on another topic that will be discussed at the Kingdom Conference, namely the setting up of a dispute arrangement for the Kingdom. He explained that he could not provide details on the state of affairs on this issue because consultations between the countries were still ongoing. The work group that deals with the dispute arrangement has already met to discuss an initial paper that Plasterk has prepared on this subject. Based on this paper, the work group has made an inventory of the standpoints on the content of the dispute arrangement, the minister stated.

The work group cohesion in the Kingdom has been looking at new initiatives to promote the cohesion in the Kingdom and is expected to present two proposals at the Kingdom Conference: a protocol and an arrangement that will promote and facilitate the cooperation among social organisations in the four countries. Plasterk warned that this should not result in the setting up of a new (governmental) organisation or an additional layer of government. He stated that the initiative for such would remain with the “social midfield” with government limiting its task to facilitating and arranging the connections between the social organisations. “No unnecessary bureaucracy and plan-making,” stated Plasterk, who added that the facilitating role of government meant that it would not enter into new subsidy relations with social organisations. The intention of the protocol and arrangement was for social organisations to get in touch with each other and to assist each other in the execution of projects that promoted the cohesion in the Kingdom.

Cooperation in the Kingdom in the area of health care will first be discussed at a conference in Aruba from June 1 to 4, which will be attended by Dutch Minister of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports Edith Schippers. The focus of the Dutch Government will be to promote the structural cooperation between the countries in the area of healthcare, which is also in the interest of the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. In order to give content to this cooperation, the Dutch Caribbean countries will have to make choices which are necessary because of the insular character, the limited size of the population and restricted financial means, Plasterk stated. This will ultimately benefit the quality of health care. At the Kingdom Conference, the countries will determine whether there is sufficient basis to materialise a structural cooperation in the health care area.

In conclusion, Plasterk stated that he would discuss the possibility of establishing a broad Kingdom Integrity Committee with the other countries at the Kingdom Conference, according to a proposal of Member of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA.

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