‘The countries of the west of the Gulf and the Arabian Sea have shown vision by joining together,’ he said. ‘The GCC is an outstanding investment in the future [and] it is good to see that you are working to harmonise regulations and reduce tariffs and are even preparing the introduction of a common currency.’

Comparing the region with the EU, he stressed that the free movement of goods, people and capital and the lack of trade barriers or unfair competition were among the key elements that had transformed the Netherlands into the world’s 15th largest economy. ‘International economic co-operation is a must for small and medium-sized countries with an open economy, whether those countries are in Europe or the Arab world,’ said Balkenende.

Balkenende’s whistle-stop tour of the Gulf included visits to the UAE, Qatar and a tour of Sohar industrial port, a joint venture of the sultanate and the Port of Rotterdam.

‘It’s difficult to say how impressed I am by the enormous work being done by Sohar port,’ he said at the ground breaking ceremony of the International Maritime College Oman at the industrial area. ‘We have experience of building things from nothing, but not as fast as this. I am proud that Rotterdam is helping to make this a durable enterprise.’