BUSINESS ABROAD: Welcome, Americans!

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In the Gothic cathedral town of Malines, Belgium, Du Pont was preparing last week to build its first plant on the European Continent. Nearby, Procter & Gamble was operating a recently completed $2,000,000 plant. A few miles down the road, Union Carbide was moving into a polyethylene plant, and Ford and General Motors were operating assembly lines. In The Netherlands, B. F. Goodrich was constructing a synthetic-rubber factory at Arnhem, and Chrysler was rolling out Simcas from its recently acquired assembly line at Rotterdam. Like many other U.S. companies, they have found Belgium and The Netherlands the best places for establishing continental plants. U.S. companies in The Netherlands have even done well making traditional Dutch products for sale to the Dutch. Borden opened a dairy plant in The Netherlands, and it is prospering.

Since World War II, 86 U.S. wholly owned plants have sprouted in The Netherlands and 38 in Belgium; U.S. companies have invested more than $250 million, created more than 40,000 new jobs. Per capita U.S. investment in the two countries ranks highest on the Continent.*

Why are U.S. investors attracted? The Netherlands and Belgium are politically more stable than France, industrially more productive than Italy, militarily more secure than West Germany. Equally important, in The Netherlands and Belgium, both the governments and the people have carefully avoided the all too common philosophy of hostility to U.S. investors, have actively courted them.

Dutch Treat. The Dutch launched their campaign shortly after the war, when signs appeared that they would lose Indonesia, need outside capital to supplant that colonial treasure chest. Neither the Dutch nor the Belgians have offered the tax holidays or interest-free loans that many industry-hungry nations dangle as bait to U.S. firms. But they do offer other advantages, topped by free convertibility. "There is no trouble here in transferring dividends,'' says the chief of Guaranty Trust Co.'s Belgian branch, Elie Delville, a pioneer in the campaign to boost Belgium to U.S. businessmen. "You can walk into this office today with Belgian francs, and without formalities buy $1,000,000 for delivery in New York."

This untrammeled brand of economic freedom carries into other fields. Neither Belgium nor The Netherlands does much to control industrial prices or production. All the managers and specialists of a U.S. company in either country may be U.S. citizens; all the capital may be held in U.S. hands. Even the unions are friendly; strikes are rare, mild and brief.

Friendly Foes. Though the two countries are political friends, they are hot rivals in pursuit of U.S. investments. The Belgians are quick to offer U.S. prospects plenty of credit at 3% or 4% (and sometimes less) v. the usual Dutch rate of 5%. On the other hand, the Dutch trumpet low wages (industrial average: 57¢ per hour), which are on a par with those in Italy, almost 20% below wages in Germany, more than 25% below rates in Belgium, France, Britain. But Belgium has a ready rebuttal: higher productivity. Reports the Organization for European Economic Co-Operation: "The Netherlands started from a lower base and has improved productivity more, but it has still not caught up to Belgium."

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