In 1782, the Netherlands began trading coffee, chocolate, and alcoholic beverages with the United States.
Today the Dutch trade has blossomed into an $8 billion-a-year business. According to Wim Dik, the Dutch minister of state for economic affairs, however, his country is now very concerned about the possibility of trade wars developing.
Fresh from discussing trade questions with Lionel H. Olmer, US undersecretary for international trade, Mr. Dik said, ''We might be standing at the brim of a trade war.''
At his meeting with Mr. Olmer, Mr. Dik said he promised to try to get other European Community members to ''keep cool'' about pressing trade issues. At the top of the list are the current sensitive areas of corn gluten (an animal feed cheaper than grain and produced in the Netherlands) and steel.
The Dutch, who count on free trade, now find themselves caught in the middle of trade issues. ''We always try to convince our partners to stay away from protectionism,'' Mr. Dik said, since free trade favors a country like the Netherlands with its excellent ports and savvy merchant traders. At the EC meetings, Mr. Dik says, Holland is known as ''the small country with the big mouth,'' for its views on allowing the free flow of trade.
The Dutch have also found themselves caught up in the British-Argentine dispute. As a member of the EC, they have backed Britain and the EC's trade boycott of Argentina. Argentine imports passing through the port of Rotterdam amounted to $400 million last year, and Dutch exports bound for Argentina came to $150 million.