Hans Ramaekers is President of the Kyiv – the Netherlands Business Club. Since 2014, the Club has been assisting Ukrainian companies in entering European markets, the Dutch one in particular. Ramaekers has lived in Ukraine for over 5 years and is very optimistic about the opportunities of economic cooperation between the two countries. Eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy from business relations is key to mutual benefits of all sides, he believes, and ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine will help to reduce one of the many obstacles.
His first experience with Ukraine dates back to 2010, after he’d sold insurance business and started traveling across Europe. Ukraine seemed like a distanty place, so a short 2,5 hour flight was a surprise. Expecting his first trip to the Eastern Europe to be dangerous, Ramaekers booked a 5-stars hotel in Kyiv. “After two days I was already walking through town at 1 in the night. No danger at all. I am more afraid to walk in Amsterdam at that time,” – Ramaekers smiles today.
The recent incident with the stolen Dutch paintings appears to be a serious threat to the Dutch-Ukrainian relationship…
I think that this issue appearing in the media before the referendum on ratifying the Association Agreement with Ukraine is no coincidence. The robbery happened 10 years ago, and now small groups try to destabilize the good relationship between Ukraine and the Netherlands by bringing this up. In my opinion, this is an absolutely ridiculous strategy to discredit Ukraine.
Yet, nearly half million Dutch citizens signed up for the referendum about ratification of the Association Agreement with Ukraine.[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]The Association Agreement with Ukraine will also make the cooperation between our countries more convenient for both sides [/quote] The opponents of ratification are afraid that it will lead directly to accession to the European Union, while this agreement is actually made to make the trade easier.
Another fear of the initiators of the referendum is that “once you sign the Association Agreement, weapons from Eastern Europe can come to the West,” which has nothing to do with the reality.
What benefits will the Association Agreement with Ukraine bring to Dutch businesses?
Business cooperation between Ukraine and the Netherlands is nothing new: a lot of Dutch entrepreneurs are already busy in Ukraine. I can name at least 50 companies successfully operating on Ukrainian market. For Kyiv, the Netherlands is one of the biggest trade partners.
Many Dutch companies are waiting for the Free Trade Area between Europe and Ukraine to start working (1 January 2016 – ed.), because right now bureaucracy makes cooperation extremely difficult.
For instance, recently one company faced some ridiculously complicated procedures with getting samples of vodka from Ukraine. Another Dutch businessman complained to me that his trucks full of fish were stuck in the customs for couple of months.
The Association Agreement with Ukraine will also make the cooperation between our countries more convenient for both sides.
What makes you optimistic about economic cooperation with Ukraine?
Ukraine is the last country in the world with such economic perspectives – it is still very underdeveloped. That means, investments and therefore new jobs can create a real economic boom.
It is the biggest country in Europe for agriculture, so once we cut out the unnecessary bureaucracy and facilitate the economic cooperation, Dutch farmers will enter the Ukrainian market.
Many Ukrainians already work for European IT companies, so that is another sector for potential investments. Green energy is on its early rise in Ukraine, so here the Dutch companies can find a lot of opportunities as well.
Is there a demand for Ukrainian products on the Dutch market?
In the Netherlands, if the quality and the prices are good, there will always be demand, no matter where the products come from. From my experience, Ukrainian products have a good quality. A lot of Ukrainian companies want to find a new market because of the sanctions against Russia.
In Kyiv – The Netherlands Business Club we make Ukrainians enthusiastic about starting business in Western Europe. Usually they are surprised to hear how many possibilities there are. Many of them have never had contracts with Europe, that’s why they lack knowledge and experience.
The Association Agreement is quite often connected with migration risks. Does Ukraine impose big migration risks to Europe?
Europe now has a lot of refugees from Syria and other countries, but also there are many economic migrants coming for a better life. We should also keep in mind that there are a few poor countries within the Union itself, and their citizens start traveling within the Schengen zone seeking for opportunities. Ukraine will not cause us any new problems.
Instead, we should let it become prosperous and stable. By improving our business cooperation and investing in Ukraine now, we will create jobs within Ukraine and develop a healthy partnership with our neighbor, who in the future may also join the EU.
Do you find the concerns about corruption in Ukraine justified?
After a speech I gave in Amsterdam this April about the economic perspectives in Ukraine, a Dutch entrepreneur came up to me and asked to arrange production of his goods in Ukraine. The last question he asked me was about corruption.
I have lived in Ukraine, I know the people and the mentality. 99% of Ukrainians that I know are hard working, decent people, trying to survive in, fortunately, a positively changing country. The young generations as well as older generations just want a better life.
I won’t say there is no corruption there, but Ukraine is not more corrupt that any other country in the world. If you read the news in the Netherlands, everyday something goes on with companies or people trying to steal money from companies – it’s all the same. My approach is to step over these fears and start doing business. There are many good patriotic people in Ukraine, as well as transparent businesses.
That Dutch entrepreneur used to produce machines for roads’ construction in China. He said to me: “The prices are good, the samples that I have sent can be produced in Ukraine. It’s great for me because China is so far away,” so now he will be switching to Ukraine.