Toespraak minister Kaag bij voorjaarsvergadering IMF en Wereldbank

Toespraak van minister Kaag (Buitenlandse Handel en Ontwikkelingssamenwerking) bij de voorjaarsvergadering van het Internationaal Monetair Fonds (IMF) en de Wereldbank op 21 april 2018 in Washington D.C. De toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Blockchain. If you’ve heard this term in the past year, it was probably in the same breath as 'bitcoin'. Which is understandable given that bitcoin is driven by blockchain technology. But this association does little justice to what might just be the biggest technological breakthrough since the internet.

With the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the world committed itself to eradicating poverty, ending hunger and reducing inequalities, while ensuring decent work and responsible consumption and production, and protecting our planet.

I’m not saying blockchain is the answer. But as the Dutch Queen Máxima in her role as the UN Secretary-General's Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development earlier also emphasized, transformative technologies can make a difference for international development and financial inclusion.

Blockchain is such a new technology and it offers tremendous opportunities. For business, for the public sector, and for development cooperation.

Trust is what fuels human interaction. And that’s exactly what blockchain provides. When people trade and when citizens interact with their governments, they must be able to have confidence in the information available. The intrinsic value of blockchain is that it offers a shared truth that everyone agrees on. Based on verifiable information and transparency. This creates trust and − as a result − opens up a world of new possibilities.

For instance, blockchain can track goods through the supply chain to ensure standards like fair trade are applied better. Blockchain is used in the diamond industry to identify and deal with abuses between the stages of extraction and processing. And for almost a year now, the World Food Programme has successfully been using blockchain to provide financial assistance to thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan’s Azraq camp. Refugees no longer need to pay for food with cash. They do so with an iris scan instead. Purchases are processed and registered using blockchain.

Last year the Netherlands launched a National Blockchain Coalition: a partnership between more than 20 organisations, public bodies and knowledge institutions. By combining their strengths – and creating a kind of blockchain, I guess you could say – they’re putting the Netherlands at the forefront of blockchain technology worldwide. A logical step given that the Netherlands is already a leading force in blockchain adaptation and development.

The Netherlands is home to the largest blockchain event in the world: earlier this month 700 participants of government, businesses and technology gathered at the Blockchaingers Hackathon in Groningen where they produced real life solutions with blockchain technology, for example on preventing medicine fraud in Africa.

And my country is running more than 40 pilots at various government levels. They range from better control of government grants and better ways to manage financial flows between government entities, to a simple project where repair work administration is done via blockchain. The end result is lower costs, tighter control, less waste and more efficiency in processes. Businesses and individuals appreciate this way of working because it’s fast, transparent and predictable.

Since September 2017 the World Bank and the Dutch Blockchain Coalition have been working together closely and sharing the lessons they’ve learned in relation to blockchain, artificial intelligence initiatives and the value these technologies provide for development.

On top of blockchain’s incredible potential for combating poverty, the World Bank believes this technology could help reduce transaction costs, streamline the Bank’s processes and provide greater transparency.

Wherever we look right now, we find concrete and successful examples of blockchain technology. Whether it’s in energy, logistics, health, government services, banking or food programmes, blockchain offers great potential.

But we also need to take a good look at the risks. For example, blockchain can compromise privacy. And we need to figure out how to protect data, now and in the future. What’s more, blockchain requires huge computing power and ditto energy, so the environmental effects need to be considered too.

To reap the full potential, we need to collaborate. The Dutch government and the National Blockchain Coalition are keen to share knowledge, learn from each other’s experiences and work collectively to speed up the beneficial impact of disruptive technologies.

With the adoption of the SDGs, we not only committed ourselves to achieving goals like eradicating poverty, ending hunger, and ensuring responsible consumption and production. We also committed ourselves to innovation and partnership. And that’s what blockchain is all about.

We look forward to working with you. To fast-track our progress towards transparency, growth and prosperity for all.

Thank you.