25th ANNIVERSARY INTEREXPO CARIBBEAN

Back to the future: prep talk instead of pep talk! Sustainability requires a long-term vision for doing business in the Dutch Caribbean

Address by Karel Frielink – Attorney / Managing Partner of BZSE Attorneys at Law, Curaçao

The Hague, 29 November 2017 / 14.30 – 15.00h

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor to address you all on the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of InterExpo organizing business conferences and trade missions. Peter Oerlemans, the unstoppable force behind this organization, did an excellent job, and his dedication will leave a lasting legacy.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge this year’s hurricane season and the devastation it has brought unto several islands of the Caribbean. Soon after the storms had passed, the UN appointed Curaçao for coordinating relief efforts; several career and honorary consuls, including myself, have been closely involved in assisting the affected islands – both in situ and from Curaçao. Help and assistance was offered by many organizations and countries, including the Netherlands, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, the French Republic and the Kingdom of Belgium.

This collaboration between governments and private people and organizations, is an excellent example of how things should go. I think I speak for everyone when I wish much courage to all those recovering from this endeavor. I also extend my gratitude to all those who put their schedules on hold to rush over and help.

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Now back to the future. According to the flyer of this congress, the target is to achieve sustainable business between the Kingdom of the Netherlands (including Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Maarten, Statia and Saba), Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Sustainability is the key-word or key-concept today and in the days and years to come. Sustainability is mentioned in connection with various topics, including ecology, society, human consumption, aviation, business models, the environment, the supply and use of energy, and tourism.

Let’s take a minute to focus on the concept of sustainability. I will do that in connection with tourism. In 2016, over 1.2 billion travelers crossed international borders, each leaving behind their own carbon footprint; by 2030, this number will have grown to 1.8 billion.

What is sustainable tourism? Tourism in the sustainable sense means ensuring social inclusiveness to reduce poverty, preservation of cultural values and heritage, implementing and abiding to eco-friendly measures, protecting our resources, our environment, and aiming for healthy, calculated economic growth. It means that our beaches and coral reefs should be clean, it means making visitors feel safe; it also means being happy and having a friendly attitude!

Synonyms for sustainability are among others: renewable, livable, worthwhile, continuous and … yes, her it comes… green! But maybe I should add “blue economy” to the list as well, although it is said that males are more likely to be color blind than females.

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I live on Curaçao for about two decades now, so my focus shall be on that country in particular. It goes without saying that Curaçao welcomes entrepreneurs, investors and tourists!

Curaçao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and has an autonomous status, meaning it has its own government and parliament. Curaçao is famous for its harbor: it is the largest natural harbor in the Caribbean. Curaçao has five major harbors. Curaçao’s international airport is also state-of-the-art and has one of the longest runways in the Caribbean (3,410 meters). The airport is one of the catalysts for wider economic development.

International financial services form still an important pillar of the economy of Curaçao. Other important sources of income include tourism, oil refining and shipping. The financial sector is supported by a number of international banks offering a wide scale of services. All of the larger international audit firms are represented on Curaçao.

Curaçao is also a well-known supplier of great sportsmen and -women, and champions, among them Churandy Martina, Liemarvin Bonevacia, Terrence Agard, Hensley Paulina (all athletes), Roelly Winklaar (international bodybuilder), Andruw Jones, Wladimir “Coco” Balentien, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, Ozino Albies, Kenley Jansen and Didi Gregorius (all baseball players) and Jemyma Betrian – ‘The Golden Girl’ (boxer and kickboxer). Quite impressive isn’t it! That’s the Curaçao spirit!

But let’s also mention Aksel Cijntje, the Unique Sport Talent 2017 (category athletes with impairments). I will get back to him in a couple of minutes.

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Curaçao is special in various ways, not just sports. In connection with investing or setting-up a business, Curaçao offers many advantages such as:

* Logistic center for the Caribbean and Latin America

* Major airlines fly to Curaçao (a.o. AA, KLM, JetBlue, Avianca)

* Highly qualified human resources

* Very favorable fiscal environment, despite the fact that it has brought its fiscal regime in line with international standards

* Extensive international banking and financial services

* Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and with a similar legal system

* Total E-solutions

* Excellent legal, accounting and tax experts

* Prime locations for first class hotels

These are all examples of advantages that could make it worthwhile to come and invest on our beautiful island.

However, for the real connection with sustainability, I should be talking about the ‘basic needs’. Our island could be your perfect (R&D) habitat for innovations and innovative ideas related to water, food, health, housing, and energy.

I believe these basic needs can offer huge opportunities for entrepreneurs like you. We have sun, sea, and wind. Yes, we do have natural resources, so why not use them for the sake of our community?

So my question for you is: how many options would you imagine in your wildest dreams?

We definitely need the knowledge and input of smart, young minded and dynamic entrepreneurs who love to be involved in the local community and are willing and able to build on systemic designs that create new business, value and jobs.

That is the kind of sustainability Curaçao could use. The good news is that there already exist plenty of examples of innovations that work elsewhere. The question is: will you be the first to adapt these on my beautiful island? Because if you don’t, somebody else will.

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Although Curaçao has plenty of sun, the sun is not always shining for people starting a business. There are challenges, as there are elsewhere in the world. The good news is that those challenges can be overcome if you do the preparation beforehand. Don’t rush into it, but start with establishing a long-term vision… a sustainable vision… do some homework and try to find a local partner or adviser, who already has experience and contacts within your field of business.

You may worry a bit about the political climate and the fact that we have had eight different prime ministers in only seven years. You know, I’ve been running a business during all those years and I am still a happy entrepreneur. And let’s not forget that our legal system safeguards your property and other rights.

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In conclusion: don’t wait. Visit us for holiday purposes or to find out how you could start a business or invest on the Pearl and Capital of the Caribbean called Curaçao.

As promised I would get back to you on Aksel Cijntje. Aksel is the founder of the foundation “You are a hero”. He has a spinal cord injury and founded his foundation aimed at stimulating others with spinal cord injuries to practice hand-biking as a sport in the Netherlands, but is also promoting this sport on Curaçao. He has a great sense of humor and a great future. Aksel wants to participate with his hand-bike in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. I, for one, hope that he can accomplish his goal!

Karel Frielink
(3 December 2017)
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