Dirck Smits Van Oyen, Managing Director of ProMarketing Ukraine, a consulting agency in Ukraine helping clients to establish and develop their businesses, has lived in Ukraine for 16 years. His company does several things: actual farming at a farm in western Ukraine, growing grains and oil seeds, and importing equipment for the food processing industry. In this abridged version of an interview given to Ukraine Today, he talks about the potential that Dutch business has in Ukraine and the potential of the country itself.
Mr. Van Oyen has been dealing with both international and Ukrainian, mostly in the agrarian sector. Given that there are many investment opportunities around the world, why invest in Ukraine? Size and proximity are important: Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, has 45 million inhabitants and borders the EU. The agricultural area is 25% of the agricultural area of the entire EU. It’s a huge food producer, suffers from stagnation due to Soviet history, which means there’s a huge opportunity for development and investment in practically every area you can imagine. For instance, it has only 5% of the storage capacity that it needs for the vegetables it produces, meaning that a lot goes to waste.
Ukraine is still importing a lot of vegetables from other countries. But it has the largest agricultural potential of practically every country on this planet. It’s just a matter of processing, doing it well, building the logistic chains which preserve the products and allow storing them over a longer period of time, and being able to offer it in good quality to the consumer. – Dirck Smits Van Oyen
Since the Dutch have the best technologies in the world for the agricultural and food processing sector, there are lots of opportunities for cooperation between The Netherlands and Ukraine. Why are The Netherlands so advanced in agricultural technology? The area is so small that they have created an art out of getting the maximum production out of every square meter of land, meaning they have very efficient equipment and technologies that could be of tremendous good use in Ukraine.
I see it in my environment: there is a huge interest and demand for this type of machinery, I see it in other areas as well. And Ukraine is ready to invest in that and purchase this from Dutch medium and small enterprises. – Dirck Smits Van Oyen
Association Agreement about taking away barriers for both sides to do business with each other
“I think this Association Agreement is not about EU membership at all. It’s about taking away barriers for both sides to do business with each other. And there can be very little objection against taking away barriers, bringing them to European and Dutch level, which is very beneficial for everybody in this region, the EU, and Ukraine,” says Mr. Van Oyen. According to him, examples where cooperation between Ukraine and The Netherlands has a huge potential to develop and to grow and create jobs in Holland and create business and economic opportunities can be found in in every economical sector.
People in The Netherlands know little about Ukraine
Despite Ukraine being physically not far from The Netherlands, one and a half driving day from Rotterdam, mentally it is very far. In addition, what Dutch people read and hear in the media about Ukraine is usually not very positive. Usually it’s some sort of disaster or revolution or corruption, always negative stories. Very rarely does Ukraine come in the news with positive stories, which are numerous, according to Mr. Van Oyen. The only time he could really remember that happening was with Euro-2012, when all the countries were participating in the football championship in Ukraine and took the good impressions back home with them.
People don’t know that it’s a country the size of France, with 45 million inhabitants, extremely nice people, well educated, who are very determined and positively working to modernize their country and to make it a very valuable member of the European family of nations. – Dirck Smits Van Oyen
Bureaucracy – main obstacle for business
Bureaucracy on every level makes doing business more difficult than it should be – one will experience it while setting up a business, running a business, or importing things. And bureaucracy invites corruption – it’s very cumbersome and difficult to respect all the laws, rules, and regulations that are still left over in Ukraine from the Soviet Union. For a lot of companies it’s easier to pay a bribe and get on with business.
The mentality of the civil servants in the Ministries are still very much unchanged versus the Soviet times. That needs to be swept clean. That’s where the Association Agreement also comes in – because due to the stronger cooperation between European institutions and Ukrainian institutions, Ukraine gets an opportunity to modernize its civil servants and all its regulations and laws that affect doing business in Ukraine. Mr. Van Oeyn says that the potential is huge, and to assess it one needs to look at what other Central European countries have achieved in terms of economic growth and attracting investment after they modernized their rule and regulations. However, things are getting better in Ukraine:
For the 16 years that I’ve been living here I’ve already seen immense improvements. If I compare Ukraine today with Ukraine 16 years ago, it’s already a different country. And due to the recent events, the Euromaidan revolution, all these changes are only accelerating. Obviously, a lot needs to be done. First of all, to reduce bureaucracy. It’s being reduced, but it has to go a lot further to make it easier. – Dirck Smits Van Oyen
Optimism for the future
When asked what he thought was going to happen over the next 5-10 years in Ukraine, Mr. Van Oyen was quite optimistic.
I’m extremely optimistic about Ukraine. I’ve seen the strength of civil society and the desire to change the country for the better. this desire was strong enough to break the resistance that existed in political elites and perhaps still exists, in some political elites. And that will drive change. young people, civil society will drive change and make Ukraine a real European country. I’m proud to be here as a Dutch businessman. – Dirck Smits Van Oyen