When he was a young man, Hendrik Schuwer thought that he might be a history teacher or, perhaps, work at the Port of Rotterdam in his home country of the Netherlands. But a singular letter changed everything.
"I tell you honestly, when I graduated from university, I sent out a number of letters," he said. "The first who wrote me back was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I never looked back."
Four decades letter, Schuwer is Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States. Just prior to his visit to Idaho—where he'll participate in a Wednesday, Oct. 17, panel discussion titled "Across the Pond, In the Field" at Boise State University and meet with the Boise Committee on Foreign Relations—Schuwer spoke to Boise Weekly about his nation's centuries-old relationship with the U.S. and how trade and investment between the two countries is directly linked to hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
How many years in the foreign service has it been for you?
I just got a very nice letter from our Minister congratulating me for 40 years of service.
Where have you been stationed over the years?
In 1979, I started out in Hanoi [Vietnam]. Then, it was India in 1981. In 1984, I went to the EU in Brussels [Belgium]. Then, it was Los Angeles in 1988, back home to our Ministry in the Netherlands in 1997, Washington, D.C., in 1997, back to the EU in 2002, NATO in 2006, back home to the Ministry, and then I became ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium in 2010, and ever since 2015, I've been in Washington, D.C., as Ambassador to the U.S.
Many of us probably have a vague concept of an international ambassador, but how do you spend most of your days?
If there is something that the United States wants to convey to my country, they can either come to me or go to their own ambassador to the Netherlands. Being a go-between [for] our two nations is what this position always was. I spend at least half of my day in looking after the economic interests of the Netherlands, promoting Netherlands companies and investments. I would say about 25 to 30 percent of my work is old, political handwork. I go to your State Department if there's a query from my Ministry. I may do the same with the Department of Defense or on Capitol Hill. The relationship between the Netherlands and the U.S dates to 1609, when the Netherlands established a colony in New Amsterdam. You know it now as New York. There are approximately 4 million Americans of Dutch descent.
How might you characterize the 2018 relationship between the U.S. and the Netherlands?
It's very good. As I said, we have a very old relationship. You know, we were the ones who paid for your revolution.
That's one way of putting it.
Actually, we made quite a pretty penny on it. And we also paid for the Louisiana Purchase.
That was another critical loan from the Dutch that helped forge the U.S. as we know it.
But of course, you were the ones who liberated us in the Second World War. One of the biggest war cemeteries outside the U.S. is in the Netherlands. I think there are more than 8,000 American soldiers lying in Margraten Cemetery, not far from where the Battle of Arnhem took place. We have a very strong relationship with you. We are the fourth- or fifth-biggest investor in the U.S., supporting roughly 825,000 American jobs. And you are the biggest investor in our country; more than 700 billion dollars are invested in the Netherlands by American companies [each year].
To that end, a Dutch Company, NewCold, is investing millions of dollars in a new facility in Burley, Idaho. We've been told that it will be one of the largest frozen storage facilities of its kind in the United States. What can you tell me about NewCold?
NewCold has several facilities in Europe, Japan and Australia, a real international company. They've developed a new system for cold storage and you in Idaho, of course, are the potato state. It turns out that we have a sizable potato industry in the north of the Netherlands, so I think we found each other. The NewCold investment into the Idaho facility is more than $90 million.
I know that when you visit Idaho later this month, you'll be spending some time at Boise State. When you have the opportunity to talk to students or young adults, what's your message?
You Americans, I think, are always in a hurry. I tell young people all the time to travel. And don't do Europe in two weeks. Take time. If possible, study for a semester in Europe. I say exactly the same thing to European kids. We have so much in common. We share the base values of human rights, free speech, all those things. I think it's important that we knit our future generations together. They'll be the ones to defend those rights.
Speaking of human rights, you must know that Boise takes great pride in its Anne Frank Memorial, which includes a sapling from the actual Anne Frank chestnut tree in Amsterdam.
That's great. Though she died at a very young age, she's also a symbol, not only for her death in the Holocaust, but [for] her optimism. Our Anne Frank Center in Amsterdam, in her spirit, continues to focus on what we can do better now.