Colombia and the Netherlands have had a long relationship, though your visit in late 2018 was the first time a Dutch prime minister visited Colombia. Why was this the right time to visit Colombia?
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. The stability of the country and region is extremely important for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. During my meeting with President Iván Duque, I confirmed the Netherlands remains committed to supporting the implementation of the peace agreement with FARC.
Why is Colombia now becoming an attractive destination for investment from all over the world, and EU countries like the Netherlands specifically?
Economic and trade relations between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Colombia are strong and growing. We have seen an increasing interest in doing business in Colombia from the Netherlands. The extremely dynamic bilateral Chamber of Commerce, Holland House, has been growing to 200 members in five years' time, while the Netherlands is in the top five of 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. The peace agreement has been contributing to increased stability and security and therefore in trust in investing in Colombia. Also solid macroeconomic policies, the trade agreement between Colombia and the EU, and the green light for membership of the OECD have been helpful in this respect.
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. We hope this initiative can be replicated elsewhere and motivates the Colombian government to streamline land registration procedures, adopting the fit-for-purpose methodology. Only then can the Colombian government achieve its ambitious goal of registering all land by 2026, as was agreed in the Peace Agreement.
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. Also in agribusiness, there is an enormous potential in Colombia. The comparative advantages of Colombia can also be related to its human capital. Dutch companies that invest in Colombia often praise the academic level and quality of the human resources and talent.
What work or improvements still need to be done in Colombia to increase its competitiveness in terms of attracting investment?
An important challenge for Colombia is the need to diversify its economy. The Colombian 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 to improve 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 with Colombia in the foreseeable future.
Netherlands and Colombia have become pioneers in the electronic exchange of certificates for agricultural products. How can such innovation in certification mean for Colombia's export economy?
The Netherlands, together with the Colombian Agriculture Institute (ICA), has implemented an electronic certification system that will speed-up the procedures to import and export of plant and veterinary products and enhance the ease of doing business with, but not exclusively, the EU. At the same time, it will reduce the risk of fraud in issuing the certificates, making the certification process more secure and transparent. The cooperation was extended to the exchange of certificates with the Colombian National Institute for the Surveillance of Food and Medicines (INVIMA). The Netherlands and Colombia are pioneers in this regard. In the second half of the year, we expect to become the first countries in the world to exchange digital, paperless, certificates.