From clean energy to cucumbers, Dutch envoy to Saudi Arabia celebrates 150 years of ties

European country working with kingdom on energy, water and building greenhouses in the desert

Janet Alberda, Netherlands ambassador to Saudi Arabia, with Saudi politician Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al Issa, General Secretary of the Muslim World League. Photo: @jaalberda
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Saudi Arabia is a “very important partner” for the Netherlands, the Dutch ambassador to the kingdom has told The National.

The two nations have worked together on green energy, water projects and even desert greenhouses for cucumbers.

Janet Alberda said her country was one of the first to open a consulate and a bank in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is also one of its top 10 export destinations.

National airline KLM runs direct flights from Amsterdam to the eastern oil city of Dammam after receiving a special provision from the late King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Saudi kingdom.

“The first Dutch consulate was opened in Jeddah in 1872, so next year we celebrate 150 years of having a diplomatic footprint in the Arabian Peninsula, and that really is quite something,” said Ms Alberda, the Netherlands' ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

“We have historical relations with the kingdom and our economic ties are quite solid,” said Ms Alberda. “We have a very strong export relationship. For the Netherlands, the kingdom is the biggest economy in the Gulf region.”

In 2019, the Netherlands exported goods worth about $3.89 billion to Saudi Arabia.

The two nations have close ties in oil. This includes The Hague hosting the regional headquarters of Saudi Aramco, among other Saudi multinational firms. The relationship also goes the other way. Dutch brand Philips made the first television sets used by many Saudis.

The Netherlands — 25 per cent of which is below sea level — has brought its expertise in water management to Saudi Arabia as a partner on projects.

It is working with the kingdom on desalination, as well as the export of fruit and vegetables that are grown in desert greenhouses.

“We come with the expertise of how to get rid of salt in water,” said Ms Alberda. “We also deal a lot with food security and are very big on exporting greenhouses.

“There’s a great interest from the kingdom to become food-sufficient so, while in the past we used to export tomatoes and cucumbers to Saudi Arabia, there is now a reverse trend. I have met Saudi entrepreneurs who dealt with the Netherlands when buying greenhouses, but now they want to export what they grow in their greenhouses to the Netherlands.”

Ms Alberda said the countries were working together to reduce emissions as the kingdom, the world's largest oil producer, aims to become carbon neutral.

“A lot of things we are doing are supported by Vision 2030, particularly when it comes to the energy and economic agendas as well as social reforms,” she said. “We completely support Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans and want to help the kingdom achieve this — we are very proud to see Saudi Arabia’s great support for sustainable development goals agenda and gives us ways to deal with topics that may be sensitive, such as human rights issues.”

On regional and global crises, she said the kingdom was a key player and an important partner in the conversation on how to tackle them.

“Saudi Arabia is a major regional player when it comes to important world agendas, such as climate and counter-terrorism,” she said.

“For us, Saudi Arabia is a very important partner to liaise with.”

She said the Netherlands has always had a strong presence in Yemen — which the UN says is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis — and “we cannot achieve a political solution in Yemen without the involvement of Saudi Arabia”.

“For us, it's important to talk to the kingdom when it comes to Yemen, the Red Sea, Syria and the Middle East peace process among others,” she said. The Netherlands, she said, will have high-level meetings in November to discuss important regional issues.

“[We'll be] diving into regional politics, things that are happening on a global scale such as what is happening in Afghanistan,” she said, referring to the Taliban's recent takeover of Kabul.

“[Afghanistan] is an important strategic region for the kingdom but also an area of great enforcement by the Dutch military until recently. We had a long development programme there so it's important to liaise with the kingdom when it comes to Afghanistan.”

Ms Alberda is also involved a renovation project in Al Balad, a historic area of Jeddah established in the seventh century as a major port for Indian Ocean trade.

Once completed, the building will house a permanent exhibition on the history of the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia.

Updated: October 01, 2021, 5:04 AM