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INTERVIEW: Problems drive innovation, Dutch representative says

The Netherlands Trade and Investment Office (NTIO) has for decades devoted itself to boosting bilateral ties between Taiwanese and Dutch institutions in various fields, from agriculture to renewable energy. NTIO Representative Guy Wittich discussed how the Netherlands is moving toward a circular economy and strengthening its relations with Taiwan in an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Kuo Chia-erh in Taipei on Jan. 17

Netherlands Trade and Investment Office (NTIO) Representative Guy Wittich attends a news conference on Jan 17.

Photo courtesy of NTIO

Taipei Times (TT): How is the Netherlands turning circular economy from a nice idea into reality?

Guy Wittich: The Dutch government has introduced a nationwide program with the goal of reaching a full circular economy in 2050. We hope to reduce the consumption of primary raw materials by 50 percent in 2030 and then eventually by 100 percent in 2050.

In January, the Netherlands launched a more detailed “transition” agenda for five major platforms that the government, academia and industries can work together on: food, construction, plastics, consumer goods and manufacturing. A lot is actually already happening in those areas.

I think the idea of a circular economy should start with what people are already doing. “Transition” industry is an emerging industry in which you can see opportunities across all the economic sectors in society. It is necessary to identify the players in related sectors and implement a carrot-and-stick policy, taking into account both incentives and principles.

For instance, the government can require that 80 percent of building materials can be recycled when issuing public tenders on specific projects. That will make people think about how to dismantle and reuse materials before they begin constructing buildings.

TT: What, in your opinion, is the driving force for innovation?

Guy Wittich: The main driving force for innovation is to find solutions to problems, such as solving food scarcity and pollution. Innovation also translates into a big motivation for young talents to develop their businesses or make contributions to the economy.

Taking Eindhoven for example, the Dutch high-tech hub is open to all kinds of companies from other parts of the world. Eindhoven produced more than 22 patents for every 10,000 residents, making it one of the world’s most inventive cities. To pursue innovation, you have to change both consumer mentality and industry mentality, encouraging more people to adopt new business models.

Innovation is not just about solving problems, but also about jobs. The idea of circular economy will create at least 50,000 new jobs and extra economic value of about 7 billion euro (US$8.61 billion) every year in the Netherlands. In my opinion, going beyond the frontier to create new opportunities is the only way to sustain economic growth.

TT: How would you describe the ties between the Netherlands and Taiwan?

Guy Wittich: For now, the Netherlands ranks the second-largest European trading partner of Taiwan, behind only Germany.

We have been doing businesses in Taiwan for almost 400 years. The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie [VOC; Dutch United East India Company] spent 38 years in Taiwan from 1624 to 1662. In the 17th century, Tainan was an important harbor in the VOC’s trading network, serving as Asia’s second-largest trading port.

The second big revival of the trade between Taiwan and the Netherlands is in the 1960s when Royal Philips Electronics NV came and set up a factory in Taiwan.

Interestingly, if you trace back the history of Taiwan’s economy, you will find that the development of chip manufacturing and high-tech industry are closely related to some Dutch companies.

For example, Philips was a founding investor of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電), while ASML Holding NV, a major equipment supplier to TSMC, is actually a spin-off from Philips.

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