Prime minister Mark Rutte has urged against the imposition of trade barriers in a speech at an economic congress in China during the ongoing Dutch trade mission.

Referring to the 17th century Dutch lawyer Hugo Grotius, who, Rutte said, recognised the Chinese as ‘the cleverest of all peoples’, the prime minister spoke out in favour of free trade.

‘Protectionism is a reflex that we see time and again in world history, even though history shows that trade barriers divide not only markets, but also people and their ideas,’ Rutte said.

‘Free trade isn’t about how to divide the cake, but how to make the cake bigger. If it’s free and fair, there’s added value for everybody,’ Rutte added.

The prime minister said that everyone should move forward on promoting cross-border digital trade, services trade, transfer of knowledge, and transparent and fair competition on a level playing field. ‘The Netherlands will always welcome initiatives in these areas,’ he said. 

‘And in this spirit, we will work within the EU to see how best we can collaborate on President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.’

He also called for reaffirmation of the mission of the World Trade Organisation, which, he said, aims at achieving open and free trade for the benefit of all.

‘In a complex world of interlinked and digital opportunities, this mission has lost none of its relevance. And it’s in the interest of Asia, Europe and other regions to make it happen,’ Rutte told his audience.

Rutte, four other ministers and 165 Dutch companies are in China for a trade mission which runs until April 13.