Meet the consul general

The young and rapidly growing city of Dubai is the economic capital of the UAE and perhaps even of the whole Gulf region. Dubai is one of the seven emirates of the UAE. Hans Sandee, Consul-General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, introduces us to Dubai’s progressive mindset. As he tells us about this and his work at the consulate, we learn more about how the Netherlands and Dubai can prosper together.

Hans Sandee
Hans Sandee, consul-general of the Netherlands

In what way is Dubai surprising?

‘When we first arrived, we were surprised to see so many nationalities represented here. It’s not surprising, of course, since non-Emiratis make up 90% of the population. It is also noteworthy how much women here actively participate in public and economic life. And something people usually don’t expect is that there are churches, Hindu temples and synagogues here. The UAE was the first country in the Gulf region to sign a treaty with Israel, the Abraham Accord.

Another unique fact about the Emirates is that ‘happiness’ is a political topic here; there is even a Minister of Happiness. The UAE was the first nation to appoint a Minister for Artificial Intelligence. There is also a Minister of Food and Water Security and a Minister of Culture and Youth’  

What does the consulate-general do?

‘The consulate-general, led by a consul-general, is responsible for specific activities in the part of the country where the embassy is located. By establishing a consulate-general close to the action, we are able to cater directly to the needs of Dutch citizens and companies in the region.

Economic activities are the most important part of our work. We work with a large number of Dutch businesses (approximately 350 companies) to establish cooperation between Dutch entrepreneurs and potential partners in the Emirates. In addition to that, we provide consular and visa services.

Less known is the fact that our consulate-general accommodates many attachés from other governmental agencies, including the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). We currently have a staff of 24 at the consulate.’

In what ways are the Netherlands and the UAE similar?

‘Like the Netherlands, the UAE is relatively small but punches far above its weight. We share a desire to keep moving forward and we look outward for inspiration and business opportunities. We also fulfil the same role in our respective regions as full-service logistics hubs. Our seaports, airports and ‘ingenuity ports’ serve the wider region and many other countries. Dubai even holds an interest in the Port of Rotterdam, via DP World.’

The Netherlands is participating in Expo 2020 Dubai. What is Expo 2020 and what opportunities can it offer the Dutch business community?

Expo 2020 Dubai is an unparalleled exhibition showcasing economic, social, cultural and state-of-the-art technological innovations. Its purpose is to present the state of development that the world is in.

Many important innovations where first presented at a World Expo. Previous Expos featured inventions like the first telephone, computer and x-ray machine. The Netherlands is bringing an innovation to this edition of the Expo that is especially interesting for this region.

Dutch Pavilion as to be seen on the EXPO 2020 in Dubai

The Netherlands Pavilion will demonstrate innovations for agriculture in dry climates. It’s a biotope with a closed circular climate system that includes a large vent. This vent extracts water from the desert air using solar energy. This sustainably harvested water is used to grow crops, such as oyster mushrooms, inside the biotope, enabling the production of nutritious foods.

Innovations like these create economic opportunities for the participating countries, while providing solutions for bigger issues, like famine and global warming.’

The Expo has been postponed because of COVID-19. Is it still going to take place?

‘We are still very enthusiastic about the Expo. The date is now set for October 2021. Nevertheless, we might need to approach it somewhat differently. It might well be the first large-scale event after the coronavirus crisis. If so, all eyes will be fixed on us.

We need to be prepared to do some e-thinking and find ways for people to experience the Expo virtually. This might be necessary if there are restrictions on the number of visitors allowed. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that it will be a great success – people are eager to meet each other, make new contacts and learn more about the latest technological advancements in the world, all in one place!’

Could you name a few challenges that the Netherlands and the UAE share?

‘Many of our challenges for the future are similar: how will we feed 10 billion people in 2050? How can we keep the planet liveable? It is important to emphasize that water, energy and food are critical issues for all of us. In this field, the Netherlands has some fascinating innovative technologies to offer the world. With that in mind, it will not surprise you that the Netherlands and the UAE are strongly committed to sustainability.’

Could you give an example of how both countries cooperate?

‘We are proud to be already visible on the Dubai landscape because of one of our specialities: Palm Island was developed in cooperation with Van Oord, a Dutch company. Our country is very familiar with the dangers and benefits of water. This experience has led to the development of many techniques, which we can share with others.

One of our methods of developing techniques that solve problems for diverse communities is the triple helix, also known as the ‘Dutch Diamond’. This is cooperation between government, businesses and knowledge institutions. Through the years, it has proven to be a resourceful way of stimulating innovation and creating business opportunities.

The UAE is very keen to learn how the triple helix can be used here. During the Expo, we will demonstrate how our helix holds potential for the UAE by showcasing state-of-the-art technologies achieved using this method.’

What are some lesser known areas of cooperation between the Netherlands and Dubai?

‘Waste management is an important industry. Especially when it comes to sustainability. The Dutch have a wealth of knowledge in this area. There is a lot of cooperation in the creative sector as well, for instance in software development, art and architecture.’

How can the consulate-general and the embassy be of service?

‘The motto of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is “For the Netherlands, worldwide”. We assist with trade queries, link people and businesses, introduce new opportunities and help resolve consular-related difficulties. The embassy and the consulate seek out specific areas in which the two countries can cooperate. We connect, direct and facilitate in those areas for the sake of mutual progress and partnership.

By actively assisting businesses, we help strengthen general earning capacity. Not only for the Netherlands, but also for the region, and in the bigger picture – worldwide. So, we are not alone in this. Our strength lies in the cooperation between the Dutch embassy and the consulate-general and the UAE. Together we make a great team!’