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Unlocking Opportunities: A Conversation with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines
Social Enterprise

Unlocking Opportunities: A Conversation with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines

Mitchel Smolders

Executive Director
The Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines
Margaux Zurbano

The Dutch Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines is a member-organization that promotes and facilitates bilateral trade, investment, and business partnerships between the Netherlands and the Philippines. It serves as a platform for Dutch companies operating in the Philippines and Filipino companies interested in doing business with the Netherlands. The chamber provides a range of services and resources to its members, including networking events, business matchmaking, trade missions, and information sharing. 

The Dutch Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines acts as a liaison between its members and relevant government agencies, promoting a favorable business environment and advocating for the interests of Dutch businesses in the Philippines. It also facilitates  information on market-access, business insights, and industry trends, helping its members make informed decisions and expand their market presence. With that, why don’t you join me in learning more about the Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines with its Executive Director, Mitchel Smolders.


What inspired you to pursue a career in foreign business relations? 


I didn't directly start in foreign business relations. My background is in international relations and diplomacy, to which economic policy and market access play a role, but these were not my initial focus. During my studies, I had the opportunity to study in Asia in Seoul, South Korea. This is where I discovered that this region is one of the more interesting parts of the world where you still see some elements of the Cold War that are still simmering and are still very much active. However, what I especially like is that in East Asia, there's this very prominent feeling of hope existing among the people where you can see that young people can directly improve their lives compared to their parents’ generation. There is an upward trajectory there. While in Europe, this is of course a very big contrast, especially over the last decade where younger people can afford less than their parents could at their age. I think Asia is also a region where the innovation of technology that the Netherlands and Europe in general can bring, is needed more than in other regions across the world. In my role, I'm really able to facilitate as a bridge between those two regions, Europe and Southeast Asia. This is what really makes me enjoy and pursue this career.


What is the purpose of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce and what differentiates it from other Chambers here in the Philippines?


What differentiates us is that we focus on the Dutch-Philippine relations. In that sense, our purpose is twofold. On one hand, we promote the Philippines as a market and investment destination to Dutch companies and entrepreneurs that are ready to make the step to enter into a new market abroad. Some of them want to enter the Philippines for the first time or some have already been eyeing this market for many years already. A number of them even find the Philippines as a logical next step after they've already been active in a number of neighboring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, or Indonesia.

On the other hand, we also promote Dutch products, innovation, technology, and knowhow to our potential partners here in the Philippines and showcase where Dutch expertise can contribute or cater to some existing needs in the market that are not yet met. The Philippines is not really an easy country for Dutch investors. In contrast to this, if you look at Southeast Asia, Dutch companies really prefer Vietnam or Indonesia, those two are the bigger two markets that they often look at. But nonetheless, we see many opportunities here in the Philippines. We think it's important that through a platform like the Chamber, we can highlight these opportunities and keep promoting them to companies that have an interesting or innovative edge.


Can you describe the current state of Dutch-Philippine business relations, and how has the Chamber contributed to its growth?


From a bit of a historic perspective, I think that it's really interesting and not many people know this, but the Dutch and the Philippines have actually longstanding historical ties as both countries used to be part of the Spanish crown at the same time. This was only until the 17th century when the Dutch Republic became independent from Spain. Some of its naval battles that were fought between the Dutch and the Spanish were fought here in the Philippines. In modern times, the Chamber has only existed since 2018. We're a relatively younger chamber compared to other European countries here in the country, like the Spanish or the American Chambers, which are much older. 

As such, we focus on helping companies have a smooth entry into the market so that they know what to expect when they do business in the Philippines, while also having a reliable partner to talk to in case they have questions. We've been able to quickly grow in the past five years, as we were able to encompass 120 members now. However, that doesn't fully cover and accurately cover the full extent of the Dutch business community here. Each year, we see new companies that come to the Philippines for the first time. What we also noticed is that recently, there is more interest for Philippine products to enter Europe. These products use the Netherlands as a port of entry. This even includes Philippine manpower and labor, like nurses or technical staff. They're exploring opportunities if they can be deployed to the Netherlands. To facilitate these questions,  we work a lot with the Dutch embassy on this. We have a good working relation with them and together we cater to these new business demands between both countries.


How does the Chamber foster networking and collaboration between Dutch and Philippine businesses, and what are some success stories resulting from these efforts


The Chamber is really a platform for Dutch and Filipino businesses to meet, connect, and find potential partners. We do this through a series of events with the local community, many of which are also open for non-members to attend. This is also how we give and provide exposure to our members, which are often Dutch companies looking for Filipino counterparts. Next to that, we provide members regular opportunities to sit down with government parties or non-government guests on specific topics that are of interest for the members. In terms of success, it depends on the individual companies. Some of them have been actively promoting and have been able to grow quite significantly. While others even started their concept here in the Philippines and then were able to move to new markets in Southeast Asia, even to Africa or Latin America. 

I think one of our best, more collective efforts to show the impact of the Chamber, is our joint maritime committee. This committee is hosted by the Dutch Chamber, together with the German and Nordic Chambers, and the Norwegian Business Council. This committee convenes once a month and it’s really a primary platform for members of all these countries to discuss industry developments. They reach out to relevant government stakeholders and we are very lucky that this committee has excellent leadership that oversees its agenda and reaches out to necessary contacts as well as the dedication of our members to show up each month to make it a useful exchange. We use that committee as a model for other committees and future activities. For us, this is really one of the more influential aspects that we as a Chamber have been able to develop.


What future plans does the Chamber have for the Philippines?


As I mentioned previously, we were founded in 2018. 2023 is our five year anniversary here in the country. This is a big milestone for us and in order to celebrate this, we plan to bring a new business mission to the country that is significantly larger than what we've seen in the past. In order to really promote the country as an investment destination, we think it's time that we pick up where that last mission in 2016 left off. We are still releasing more information in the next few months. The community can look out for those if they are interested to hear more or they can reach out to me or the Chamber directly in anticipation of that mission.


Mitchel Smolders is the Executive Director of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. Given his role, his primary task is to manage day-to-day chamber activities, coordinating events and initiatives, fostering relationships with Dutch and Filipino businesses, and promoting bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. He plays a crucial role in supporting and advocating for the interests of chamber members and facilitating business opportunities. Mitchel represents the chamber in meetings, conferences, and networking events, both locally and internationally, to promote the chamber's objectives and enhance its visibility. He also collaborates with government agencies, industry associations, and other chambers of commerce to strengthen partnerships and create a favorable business environment for Dutch companies in the Philippines. These are all in line with the Chamber's goals, namely: to foster business and trade relations between the Netherlands and the Philippines. 


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