State must increase support of strategic exports – says employers’ association

Two days before a parliamentary debate on the Dutch arms export policy, FME employers’ association president Ineke Dezentjé has a large interview in NRC daily newspaper  to complain about the difficult export situation of the Dutch (technological) industry. Dezentjé used to be Member of Parliament of liberal party VVD which preaches free market for every sector of the Dutch society, including primary health care. For industry however the state should provide financial support through more export credit facilities, according to Dezentjé. Not surprisingly, as an MP she used to be spokesperson on arms exports for her party. Now she is lobbying directly for the arms industry, although she uses the more neutral term ‘strategic goods’.

State export credit facilities are used to insure export of capital goods or building activities to countries with an instable financial and/or political situation. Research of the European Network Against Arms Trade showed that about a third of all export credit guarantees is used for arms exports. Damen Shipyard for example got a guarantee for up to 800 million euro for the sale of warships to Morocco. Had the Moroccan population been asked if they preferred warships or hospitals, the deal might not have got through, but decisions on major military programmes are made by the king and his admirals alone. Parliament has no role in Moroccan arms procurement.

The British NGO Jubilee UK argues that Egypt’s nearly £100 million debt to the UK “must fall with Mubarak.” A huge amount of Egypt’s debt is military-related. However, if Egypt will not pay and if these sales are insured by the UK export credit facility, British taxpayers will pay the bill to the arms industry. That is how the export credit insurance of the state works. The same is true for a Dutch export credit recently guaranteed through Atradius Dutch State Business for a military export to the amazing destination of Greece. With commercial parties reluctant to provide export credits on a regular basis, Atradius jumped in with a guarantee for Thales NL radar spare parts. The credit facility of Atradius was expanded in January 2009 in response to the credit crisis.

Promoting arms export insurance for countries which hardly can afford expensive weapon systems is not the only concern of employers’ president Dezentjé. She is also concerned about the perceived lack of ‘level playing field’ for arms exports within the EU, the industry’s mantra when it comes to arms export control. According to the industry, the urgent need for level playing field is a very good reason not to take human rights into consideration when granting an arms export license. Just imagine that you are not allowed to export to a dictatorship and some other company from another country gets the deal! According to Dezentjé notably Germany and Belgium are so flexible with arms export licenses that it puts the Dutch industry at a disadvantage.

We will see what happens December 21th, when the Dutch government and a very critical parliament have a debate on the arms export policy. Let’s hope the government will answer to her concerns by pushing its German and Belgian colleagues to stricter arms export controls.

[WdV, 20 Dec. 2011]