Dutch minister defends trade links with China

A senior Dutch minister defended the country’s deep trade links with China and pledged not to overdo curbs on high-tech exports as the Biden administration pushes its European partners to toughen their stance towards Beijing.

Micky Adriaansens, the economy minister, said the Netherlands remained “very positive” about its relationship with China, saying Dutch businesses operating there were providing a boost to innovation and trade.

While the US is pushing its partners to tighten controls on exports of high-end semiconductor equipment to China, she insisted that the Netherlands and Europe “should have their own strategy”.

“We have to think this through — what are the risks of doing business with China with regard to specific products and value chains,” she told the Financial Times. “In general we in the Netherlands are very positive and always have been about good relations with China. We do a lot of business with China. A lot of Dutch companies are working there.”

China accounts for 11 per cent of Dutch imports, second only to Germany, and about 5 per cent of exports.

The minister said the relationship was “really giving a boost to innovation and trade which is fundamental to Europe. We should cherish that also.”

The remarks appear to conflict with comments from US secretary of state Antony Blinken this week, who said he saw a “growing convergence” between the US and its allies on China. Blinken’s comments come in the wake of America’s decision in October to impose tough export controls designed to slow China’s ability to develop and prevent it from obtaining advanced semiconductors that could be used for military purposes.

The Netherlands is home to ASML and ASM International, two leading global chip equipment-making companies.

The US is now trying to convince the Netherlands and Japan, another big player in the global chipmaking industry, to strike a trilateral deal that would impose further restrictions on China obtaining tools to make chips.

The US sanctions, which bar companies from sending many US-made products to China, have already hit Dutch industry. ASMI said this week they would affect about 40 per cent of sales to China, which accounts for 16 per cent of group revenue.

Adriaansens declined to comment on the likely timeframe in the semiconductor talks, saying it was “not a simple yes or no”, but a question of examining many aspects of a very complex production process. “You have to be very clear which aspect of the production process is the most important issue with regard to China,” she argued.

“The Netherlands and Europe should have their own strategy,” she said, when asked about the US talks. At the same time, they needed to be aware of risks concerning “specific technologies”. “You don’t want to overdo it but on the other hand you do not want to have your doors unlocked where safety is the first issue — it’s a balancing thing,” she added. 

She also warned that it might not be possible to prevent China gaining leading-edge technology. “The development cycle goes very fast in China. We should not be naive.” 

Adriaansens said separate US measures to provide vast subsidies for green technology to domestic companies were of concern to The Hague.

The EU has said that much of the $369bn in tax breaks and support in the Inflation Reduction Act is discriminatory and breaches world trade rules, and is in talks with Washington.

Adriaansens said: “The Inflation Reduction Act does have an impact on industry and the economy in the Netherlands and the EU as a whole”. Combined with lower energy prices, it would deter investors and hit competitiveness of European business.

The west should have a level playing field and “the same set of rules”, the minister added. She compared it with the forthcoming World Cup match with the US. “We would like to have the same size of goal and the same lines on the field in both halves.”

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