THE NETHERLANDS: Business as Usual

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In Rotterdam's Europoort, oil business goes on as usual. Giant tankers glide across the busy harbor to docks where workmen connect the ships to shiny umbilical pipes that drain their heavy cargoes of crude. Near by, five gigantic refineries crank out prodigious quantities of fuel for the thirsty North European market. The only abnormal thing about the scene is that it is not supposed to be happening. Like three other nations,* The Netherlands is still officially being embargoed by the Arab oil states that last month ended their five-month ban on exports to the U.S.

Shift in Shipments. The effect has been minimal because the international oil companies, including Royal Dutch/Shell, have shifted oil shipments so that virtually the same amount of crude is entering Rotterdam as was a year ago. Shipments of Iranian and Nigerian oil originally destined for nonembargoed nations like Britain and France have been brought to Rotterdam, while The Netherlands' usual share of Arab petroleum has been sent elsewhere. The Arabs themselves have permitted the oil companies to off-load some Arab oil in Rotterdam—if its ultimate destination is Belgium or West Germany's Ruhr Valley, both connected to the Dutch port by pipeline. The result, says a Rotterdam municipal official, is that "the embargo could continue indefinitely and it would not make any difference."

The Dutch nonetheless are puzzled by the Arabs' official retention of the embargo. Saudi Arabian Petroleum Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani has explained that the Dutch had not, like other European nations, supported the Arab demand for an Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories. But the Dutch in fact signed a Common Market statement issued last November supporting United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for such a pullback. The Arabs may be officially maintaining the boycott not so much to punish the Dutch as to keep a sword of Damocles dangling over the international oil companies that have huge investments in refineries and pipelines in Rotterdam.

If so, the effect has been the opposite. Indeed, the Arab decision may have the salutary effect of fostering Common Market solidarity. Dutch sources indicate that The Netherlands may stall preparations for the Arab-European conference proposed for late this year until the Arabs scrap the embargo. They are receiving support from, of all nations, France, which is the conference's prime sponsor. Says French Foreign Minister Michel Jobert: "The Arabs cannot expect Europe to deal with them as a unit if they continue to discriminate against members of the Common Market."

* Portugal, Rhodesia and South Africa.