Those who are noble are patient, or they strive for market access

The title of largest export market for agricultural products outside the EU belongs to China. And the Netherlands is number 2 on the world rankings for exporters of agricultural products. These two powerhouses have more than enough room on the international playing field and the agricultural counsel in Beijing strives to further develop this for the Netherlands. Nynke Runia, since 2013 counsellor of the agricultural counsel at the department of economic affairs worked on veterinary and fytosanitary products. She will now hand over this task to her successor Henk Stigter. We sat down with the two of them to talk about the possibilities, challenges and goals of this job within the Chinese environment.

Good things come to those who wait

There is a huge market and demand for a wide range of agricultural products in China. Therefore, realizing access to this market is very important. Market access for veterinary and fytosanitary products is, however, a long and complex process. “We want to realize access for organic and animal products and keep the market accessible. Maintaining accessibility is especially important since the rules regularly change and are becoming more strict and complex in recent years. For example, new requirements have been drafted to ensure food safety. China had several food scandals in the past years, so the consumer lost a lot of trust in the local products”, ms. Runia explains. This also creates opportunities for Dutch companies who can produce high quality and safe food such as baby milk powder.

However, some of these rules can also obstruct trade. Take for example the process to get a specific product on the Chinese market. Before, a protocol was drafted and once that was agreed upon, the market would be open for that product. But besides the protocol, there is a separate registration process for every company that wants to export the product. Additionally, some products, such as dairy products, need to be registered separately again.

These situations make doing business in China challenging and Ms. Runia adds that, “negotiations we undertake are very interesting, but also complex and can take years. We need to be meticulous during such long-term processes, building up trust is essential. The proverb ‘Trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback’ really applies to our situation.”

Mr. Stigter remarks that there is already quite some trust in the Netherlands. “There are certainly time differences for products to get access. For example, it took more than 6 years for pears to get market access, but only 3 years for bell peppers, which are also viewed as a high-risk product. Trust in the Dutch veterinary and fytosanitary system is necessary. Yearly, there are also Chinese experts flying over with delegations to the Netherlands to see how we work. Trust is in the end the foundation for trade.”

Successes through dedication and cooperation

Both ms. Runia and mr. Stigter emphasize that successes like the bell peppers only exist because of years of preparation. “For some products, the time has finally come. Recently, the market for pork meat opened and we have been able to keep access to the dairy market. Due to the new registration regulation, more than 80 Dutch companies had to re-register and it was important to handle the process as efficient as possible. Dairy is one of the most significant markets for the Netherlands. Ensuring a good progression of such a process requires excellent cooperation between the ministry and trade organizations.”

Mr. Stigter says that these strong connections are one of the Netherlands’ strong points. “Embassy, ministry and companies work closely together and that is characteristic of the Netherlands. One party cannot succeed without the other and the intense cooperation is something that the Netherlands is well-known for.”

Both ms. Runia and mr. Stigter are very enthusiastic about China as the backdrop for their work. Ms. Runia expresses that the local agri-team played an important part in the enjoyment of her work. “We have amazing Chinese colleagues who have a lot of knowledge about the sector. That is very important in a country like China where there is such an enormous language barrier. The fact that the Dutch government has someone working on almost exclusively veterinary and fytosanitary affairs in China also shows the importance of this work for the Netherlands. And it is very interesting and diverse work. You delve into strategy, analysis, legislation, networking and much more.”

Mr. Stigter is also very contented with his current position. “With such capable colleagues, I have an extremely soft landing in China. Nynke can be sure that I will continue her work with enthusiasm and dedication!”