Dutch businesses are flexing their muscles to tap huge opportunities offered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as they expects an upgrading of the Netherlands' position in linking Europe with Asia.
Frouke Albers, a spokesperson for the port of Rotterdam, an icon of the Netherlands' world leading logistics industry, said the Belt and Road Initiative is "a positive development ... both for the connections between China and Rotterdam and for the connections to the United Kingdom and the United States."
"Rotterdam definitely benefits as a hub for international goods traffic," Albers said. "Every new connection is good for a harbour, which is not there for itself, but lives from the connection to the hinterland."
The Netherlands now has direct rail freight services between Tilburg and Chengdu, a city 10,947 km away in southwestern China. In addition, businesses often make use of transport services that connect Dutch cities including Rotterdam with destinations in China via the German port city of Duisburg, which has direct rail links with different Chinese cities.
One of the largest ports in Europe, Rotterdam has increased its links with China. Now it has five weekly connections via Tilburg to Chengdu. It is also connected via several daily train and inland waterway connections with Duisburg.
"Many roads lead from Rotterdam to the Silk Road," said Albers. "The Chinese intention to further expand train connections corresponds with our sustainability goals. We see a positive development in the utilization of the connections also in the direction from west to east. Other destinations to and from Rotterdam are also increasingly in demand."
Roland Verbraak, general manager of GVT Group of Logistics, the Dutch operator of the Chengdu-Tilburg express, said there are three to five round trips per week of the regular freight service, depending on the seasons.
The frequency was five round trips per week in November last year. It was then lowered to three after the Chinese Spring Festival and then brought back to four starting from April. It is expected to go up to five again in November.
"There is definitely a growth in terms of frequency," Verbraak said. "As the westbound trains are mostly fully booked, if we can increase more volumes on eastbound, we will probably have a stable schedule of five trains per week."
The freight service kicked off in August 2016. Cargos from the Netherlands include a lot of fast-moving consumer goods such as wine, beer and milk powder; finished vehicles and spare parts; industrial raw materials such as plastic resin, aluminum, lubricant; building materials such as wooden floors, furniture, sanitary ware; and, of course, machinery, Verbraak said.
Another Dutch company, Nunner Logistics, which launched cargo transport services via Kazakhstan into China in 2014, now connects Amsterdam with destinations in China through the German city of Duisburg. Cargos are then split in Duisburg and put on existing trains heading to China.
"The success (of the Belt and Road Initiative) ... is also shown in the volumes and number of routes and services. Outlook for the coming years shows massive growth," said Erik Groot Wassink, director of special products at Nunner. "It is a very strong product growing rapidly, huge success with new Silk Road."
The Dutch logistic industry sees an upgraded position for the country on the world map of connectivity. The Holland International Distribution Council (HIDC), which represents the Dutch logistics industry, has been promoting the Netherlands as a "gateway to and from Asia" alongside its firmly rooted reputation as a "gateway to Europe."
The infrastructure and connectivity initiative "gives international companies great opportunities. Via world port Rotterdam it guarantees the ideal One Belt, One Road optimizing your supply chain. The Netherlands is your gateway to and from Asia!" The council said on its website.
Zhang Guosheng, economic counselor of the Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands, said the Dutch people have every reason to see their country as a natural partner in terms of the Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.
With its excellent connectivity and logistic network, its adherence to free trade and fair competition, its sound and open financial market, the Netherlands is set to play a significant role in facilitating trade, connectivity and the exchange of ideas along the Belt and Road, he said.
Businesses in sectors other than logistics also see growing trade and commerce opportunities brought about by the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
"This vision will foster better healthcare for people in all the countries along this trade route, and that is coherent with Philips' vision," said Frans van Houten, CEO of health technology leader Royal Philips in September in a meeting with Chinese startups and sustainability researchers.
Dimitri de Vreeze, a member of the managing board of directors of DSM, a Dutch company and global leader in life and material sciences, said his company will focus on supplying clean coating material for the containers used for trade in the countries along the Belt and Road and supply crucial technology to improve the efficiency of electric cars and solar panels that will be sold in countries involved in the BRI.
"We want to help to make the BRI green," he said.