Ambassador Roel Nieuwenkamp

Chasing the world’s biggest dredging contract, partnering with the Centro Ana Frank in Buenos Aires and enjoying an ice cream with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Queen Máxima. No two days are ever the same for Roel Nieuwenkamp, the Dutch ambassador to Argentina. ‘Sitting between Merkel and Putin at the G20 summit is an experience I won’t soon forget.’

Ambassador Roel Nieuwenkamp

What’s it like to be the Dutch ambassador to Argentina?

‘It’s fantastic. Argentina is a fascinating country, both politically and economically. It has a rich culture and an extraordinarily beautiful natural environment, with jungles, mountains, deserts and glaciers.’

What can the embassy do to facilitate cooperation between Dutch companies and the Argentinian government and business community?

‘There’s a huge amount we can do. Since 2018, for example, we’ve been running workshops and missions relating to the tender procedure for a dredging project in the Párana River, a key South American artery that flows for more than 2,500 km through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. This is one of the world’s biggest dredging contracts. The embassy is working hard to ensure a fair tender procedure in which all participants receive equal treatment.'

‘We’re busy showing the Argentinian decision-makers just how much expertise the Netherlands has in this field. We’ve teamed up with Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen to plan missions, and we’re helping Dutch consultants with the tender procedure by showing them how things work in Argentina. Globally, five companies are capable of implementing this project, and they’re all competing for the contract. Two of those companies are Dutch – Boskalis and Van Oord. So I think we have a good chance.’

Do Argentina and the Netherlands face common challenges?

‘Increasingly extreme weather is a phenomenon that both countries are having to address. Here in Argentina, both drought and flooding can be a problem. That means harvests can fail, driving prices up. Such economic turbulence can make or break a government here. In the provinces of Buenos Aires and Córdoba we’re assisting the local authorities on water management. In this way we’re exporting the Dutch ‘polder model’ of consultation and consensus. An expert from a Dutch water authority will come over here and guide discussions among Argentinian farmers and water authorities in order to pursue common policy and solutions.’

In what other areas is the Netherlands active in Argentina?

‘Our embassy is very active in the area of human rights. We run joint projects with the Centro Ana Frank in Buenos Aires. The centre is an international partner of the Anne Frank Foundation in the Netherlands, and we work together to advance women’s rights. With these kinds of projects, experts on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) come over from the Netherlands to provide training and workshops. And this kind of support is badly needed, as femicide is a daily occurrence here.’

Are the rights of women and LGBTI people under pressure across the entire country?

‘It’s mainly in the rural areas that the rights of these groups are under pressure. Buenos Aires is a modern, liberal city, but that makes it very far removed from the rest of the country. Outside the city, especially in the north of Argentina, people are quite conservative. The Catholic Church also has a major influence. But the Argentinian government is committed to protecting the rights of women and LGBTI people, and we work closely with the authorities on these issues, including at UN level for example.’

Queen Máxima is from Argentina. Is that an advantage when it comes to our bilateral contacts?

‘That’s putting it mildly! It’s a marvellous icebreaker. The Argentinian people are extremely proud of ‘their’ Máxima. Here, Her Majesty the Queen is the ultimate celebrity: you’ll find something about her in the papers every day.’

So the Queen has really put the Netherlands on the map where Argentina is concerned?

‘Well, I’d say she’s certainly played an important role. The Netherlands already had a good image in this country, thanks in part to our criticism of General Jorge Videla’s military dictatorship, or junta, which was in power from 1976 to 1983. Something else that really raised our profile was the final of the World Cup in 1978. The Netherlands lost that final to the Argentinian hosts, but people still talk today about the ‘Naranja mecánica’, the ‘Clockwork Orange’.'

Besides Argentina you are also ambassador to Uruguay and Paraguay. What is that like?

‘Because of the COVID-19 pandemic I haven’t been to Uruguay or Paraguay for a year. Fortunately we have two excellent honorary consuls on the ground, who work very hard. But in fact there aren’t many Dutch nationals in those two countries. And there aren’t many Dutch companies active there either. But that doesn’t mean there are no business opportunities. Green hydrogen is on the rise in Uruguay, for example. And thanks to the country’s stable and competent government, we can really make the most of those opportunities.'

‘Paraguay is a somewhat less stable country. But there are opportunities there for logistics and maritime companies. For example, the international Navigistic trade show has attracted trade missions from Rotterdam. Companies like Damen Shipyards Group, Concordia Damen and Thecla Bodewes sell a lot of vessels at that show.’

A final question: What is your most memorable experience as ambassador so far?

‘The 2018 G20 Summit was a real highlight. My whole team worked so hard to make the participation of the Dutch delegation – which included Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Queen Máxima – a success. For me as ambassador, it was a privilege to deputise for Mr Rutte at one of the meetings, after he had to pull out in order to meet with a head of state. Even though I wasn’t actively involved in the discussions, I did find myself sitting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. For a diplomat, such an occasion is definitely a highlight. And to top it all, Queen Máxima took Mr Rutte and me to visit her favourite ice cream parlour in Buenos Aires! That was a special – and above all fun – experience.’