Netherlands Queen to visit Burma

By The Irrawaddy 23 March 2015

RANGOON — Queen Máxima of the Netherlands is set to visit Burma at the end of this month in her role as UN envoy for development of microfinance, Dutch media have reported.

Máxima, queen consort of King Willem Alexander, is the UN Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. In this role, she focuses on development of an inclusive financial system that can help the poor gain access to services such as savings, insurance and credit.

Burma’s microfinance sector is one of the least developed in Asia because of the country’s long international isolation under the previous military regime.

President Thein Sein visited the Netherlands during his third European visit in September 2014, when he met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the king and queen.

The Netherlands has been among a number of European countries that have quickly reengaged with Burma following the introduction of reforms by Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government since 2011.

Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liliane Ploumen opened a Netherlands mission in Rangoon in late 2013 to foster trade relations between the two countries. Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Melanie Schultz van Haegen has visited Burma twice to promote cooperation and business opportunities in water management and infrastructure development.

Last year, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell was awarded offshore oil and gas exploration concessions in Burmese waters. Heineken is building a brewery in Burma, while Dutch consumer goods producer Unilever is building two factories in the country.

Some human rights organizations have cautioned Western government leaders against rushing to build trade ties with the Burmese government, as the country’s much-lauded democratic reform process has stalled in the past year or so, while rights abuses and oppressive measures are becoming more common.

In December, the king and queen of Norway, another European country that has sought to foster economic ties with Burma, made an official state visit during which they travelled to Naypyidaw and Mandalay. Ahead of the Norwegian king’s visit, authorities in Mandalay forcibly evicted dozens of poor families squatting at the jetty on the Irrawaddy River where the royal couple arrived by boat.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry later sent a letter of complaint to Burmese authorities over the treatment of the families.