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Dutch project to donate bicycles hits road bump Add to ...

The Dutch government plans to bring hundreds of bikes into Canada to promote pedal power and a healthier lifestyle during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

But the taxman has put the brakes on their plans, at least temporarily, by demanding import duties that may make the bicycle program too expensive, say consular officials from the Netherlands.

Dutch officials initially balked at the cost, which reflected a markup of more than a 100 per cent. But talks were continuing this week on how to handle the issue, Hans Driesser, the Dutch consul-general in Vancouver, said yesterday in an interview. He declined to disclose the cost of importing the bikes.

"I don't know whether it will be addressed. We're working on that," Mr. Driesser said. "We are now putting together all the elements but there are still a number of uncertainties."

The plan to bring bikes to the Olympics is meant to reflect the cycling culture in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, which is widely recognized as the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. "The Dutch are strongly in favour of bikes, for reasons of health, the environment, traffic and sustainability issues," Mr. Driesser said.

Consular staff in Vancouver expect thousands, and possibly tens of thousands, of Dutch fans will come to Canada to cheer on the long-track speed skaters. Dutch athletes dominated long-track speed skating at the Turin Winter Games in 2006, ranking No. 1 with nine medals, including three gold medals.

The country's national railway stepped forward with an offer to purchase the bicycles for the Olympics. If events unfold as planned, around 450 bikes would be available outside Holland Heineken House, the Dutch hospitality centre at the Olympics.

Heineken House could be the largest hospitality centre at the Winter Games. Consular officials anticipate the centre will have a staff of around 350 and attract more than 4,000 people daily throughout the Games.

The staff could use the bikes to go to their hotels; and families of Dutch athletes and the public could hop on a bike to go from the hospitality centre to the Olympic speed-skating oval, located less than 10 minutes away.

After the Games, the bicycles would be donated to a local charity, Mr. Driesser said.

Dutch officials were told the tax could be avoided only if the bikes were sent back to the Netherlands after the Games, he said. Dutch officials were hoping that they could work out an exception to the import duties for the Olympics, he added.

Sabrina Mehes, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency, which is responsible for collecting import duties, said in an interview from Ottawa that federal officials were not prepared yesterday to comment on the matter.

The Netherlands government promotes bicycle events during the summer in several Canadian cities under the banner of "Go Green, Go Dutch, Go Bike."

The Dutch government is also looking for special arrangements with the federal government concerning six-week working permits for staff from the Netherlands to run Heineken House. The federal government has insisted that the jobs at the hospitality centre be advertised, so Canadians can apply. The Dutch government wants to fly in the entire staff, including the chefs, who they say are trained to work at the centre, prepare Dutch foods and speak Dutch.

The Dutch government is also in talks with the city of Richmond over a building permit for construction of the hospitality facility in two municipal ice rinks.

"Canadian standards are different than European and the Canadians will not accept the European standard," Mr. Driesser said.

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