Benno Grimberg is a Dutch businessman, coordinator of Food Tech Link Ukraine. This conglomerate of small and medium sized Dutch businesses is a public-private partnership. The four focus sectors are: fruits and vegetables, confectionery and industrial bakeries, meat and dairy industry. In these industries we can supply all kinds of necessary equipment to do an efficient job and also to do a job that meets the requirements, the demands of your client abroad who want to have quality food, who want to have packages, and food contents that meet international food safety conditions. Right now he is serving Ukrainian companies who would have their clients in other parts of the world.
He shared his views on Ukraine’s agricultural market and its potential on the world market. This is an abridged version of an interview given to Ukraine Today.
Ukrainian companies are already exporting all over the world
Ukraine is a strong base to start from in exporting all sorts of commodities. – Benno Grimberg
The businessman recalls last year’s Anuga exhibition in Cologne, Germany: “I was surprised not only by the prices of Ukraine in such a broad way, broad scope of products, but also the quality of the stands, of the exhibitions there was at high level. People were ready, you could easy approach them in English, you could write the recommendation, they had USB sticks, everything was present – Ukraine is going the right way.”
Ukraine is a strong base to start from in exporting all sorts of commodities, the businessman emphasizes: agri-food products, sunflower oil, and so on. However, the next challenge is adding value to what you harvest and then earning real money before sending it out.
“This is what the Netherlands do, – Grimberg tells. – We grow products, then we don’t send them out, the industries abroad can earn their money by food processing developments. We want to make the final products and have their normal profit that is in these products. That’s the phase Ukraine is now.”
Grimberg is optimistic about Ukraine’s agricultural future. He reminds that last year up to 35% of total Ukrainian export was only in agri-food business comparing to 25% 2 years ago. “This part is growing and growing, it needs more support,” he said.
Corruption hits small and medium businesses the most
Asked about corruption in Ukraine, Grimberg shares that it is an important factor in every country of the world and the Netherlands face it as well. However, in Ukraine it is different. “If we face corruption, we put it on the table and talk about it, it’s on TV, it’s in the public. Here it is more covered. We never know what’s really going on,” the businessman says.
People, who do honest business, should not feel the negative events of corruption as it is often blocking the new enterprise from emerging.“I feel this is in my business: people who have the guts to start a business, are afraid to even start. As soon as they start openly running a business, they become victims of all kinds of tax inspectors who want to see your books [and demand a bribe – ed.]”
Ukrainian companies know what to do, know what’s going on in the world and they have the experience to teach the government. – Benno Grimberg
It is small and medium sized companies that suffer from corruption most, Grimberg says. However it is these companies that provide plenty of jobs to the economy.
Avoiding corruption is possible in Ukraine, Grimberg emphasizes: “Use positive exceptions as lighthouses.” He believes, that the Ukrainian and foreign businessmen should be focused on demanding the government to provide support and promote Ukrainian economy.
Ukrainian companies have international experience and can teach their government
Ukrainian companies are ready to develop and enter the world market. “They know what to do, they know what’s going on in the world and they have the experience to teach the government.” What the country needs is an economic strategy with the top sectors, Grimberg states. Those can be agri-food, IT or metal processing.
At the international Anuga exhibition the businessman had a chance to meet 20 Ukrainian companies from all kinds of sectors showing big ambitions for export. They were mostly in the sectors of finished products of seafood supplies, chicken products, juices, berries, flower and sunflower oil.
That’s why a tandem of public and private enterprises may be a good solution for Ukrainian companies, Grimberg argues. Ukraine doesn’t necessarily need to copy solutions of other countries, but will benefit from exchange of experience and benchmarking.
“The empty Ukraine is not there anymore. Everybody is aware of the country Ukraine existing in the world.” Grimberg says but reminds that right now Ukraine’s publicity is rather negative. That’s why Ukrainian companies need the tools to tell their story abroad as a developing agri-food country.
As the date of Dutch referendum about Association Agreement with Ukraine approaches, the question about its pros and contras becomes more and more pressing. That is why Euromaidan Press in cooperation with Ukraine Today launched the #DUTCHINUA project gathering the views and opinions of the Dutch businessmen and entrepreneurs who work in Ukraine. Read its most interesting findings: Size matters: why Dutch businessmen like Ukraine.