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Colombia 2019 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands has high hopes for the future relationship between Amsterdam and Bogotá, thanks to agribusiness opportunities, sound Colombian macroeconomic policies, and a historic peace deal.

Mark Rutte
BIOGRAPHY
On graduating from Leiden University in 1992, Mark Rutte joined Unilever, where he worked as a human resources manager and was responsible for staff training. He was also in charge of several reorganizations. In 1997, Rutte became personnel manager at Van den Bergh Nederland (Calvé), part of Unilever. In 2002, he was appointed director of human resources at the IGLOMora Group BV, a Unilever subsidiary. From November 2012 to October 2017, he was Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs in the Rutte-Asscher government. In October 2017, Rutte was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs.

Colombia and the Netherlands have had a long relationship, though your visit in 2018 was the first time a Dutch leader visited Colombia. Why was this the right time?
Colombia is a neighbor of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is an important and reliable partner. We enjoy a comprehensive bilateral relationship both politically and economically. My visit to Colombia, together with a trade mission of more than 100 companies from the Netherlands, Aruba, and Curaçao, gave us the opportunity to strengthen our ties even further. The signing of the peace agreement with FARC has encouraged many countries, including European ones, to look for business and investment opportunities in Colombia.

Why is Colombia becoming an attractive destination for investment from all over the world and EU countries, such as the Netherlands specifically?
Economic and trade relations between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Colombia are strong and growing. The extremely dynamic bilateral Chamber of Commerce, Holland House, has grown to 200 members in five years' time, while the Netherlands is among the top-five foreign investors in Colombia. Six Dutch sectors, as we call them 'top sectors,' have identified Colombia as a priority country where they want to explore business opportunities: agrifood, horticulture, water, logistics, life sciences and health, and the creative industries.

How has the Netherlands' support and experience helped design a better model to achieve Colombia's goals for land titling and formalization?
During my visit to Colombia I had the opportunity to visit Apartadó, a region highly affected by the armed conflict. Together with the Colombian Minister of Agriculture Andrés Valencia, we handed out land titles to 25 families of the 'vereda' Los Mandarinos in Urabá. These titles were the result of a pilot project executed jointly by the Agencia Nacional de Tierras and the Dutch Cadastre. The pilot aims to demonstrate that it is possible to register land and provide land titles, faster, cheaper and in a fully participatory way. I spoke to the farmers that have obtained a land title and was extremely impressed to hear their stories of resilience and hope for the future. For farmers, it is important to have a land title. It gives them legal security and enables them to access credits and invest in their land.

How does Colombia compare to other Latin American countries in terms of investment potential?
Economic growth in Colombia has been convincing over many years. Its stable and liberal macroeconomic policies are important for investors and companies from different countries. Colombia is also strategically located, which offers possibilities, for example, in port development.

What work or improvements still need to be done to increase its competitiveness in terms of attracting investment?
An important challenge for Colombia is the need to diversify its economy. The government is aware of this and has formulated policies in this regard. The country relies to a large extent on the exports of natural resources; coal is one of the most important export products. Another challenge the government needs to tackle is improving transport and logistics, sectors that the Netherlands has developed to near perfection. How else could we become the world's second-largest exporter of agricultural products with a country the size of the department of Casanare? Additionally, to further stimulate Dutch investment in Colombia, President Duque and I agreed to sign a double taxation agreement in the foreseeable future.