Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Kingdom of the Netherlands Trade Dinner, Bogotá
Your Excellency, Minister Restrepo,
Ladies and gentlemen,
In one of his short stories, the great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez called Amsterdam a ‘Caribbean town’.
I should add that he was writing about a warm summer night.
He might have come to a different conclusion in winter.
And of course, in the works of Marquez there’s a fine line between reality and something more elusive.
Yet the Caribbean connection between this region and the Netherlands is anything but elusive.
We are not only good friends.
We are also neighbours.
The Caribbean parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands serve as a key link in the trade ties between both our countries and our continents.
So I have come to Colombia with government ministers, companies and professionals from the European part of our Kingdom, but also from Curaçao and Aruba.
We have come here to strengthen our bonds of friendship as neighbouring countries.
And also to explore the business opportunities that lie ahead.
Not many people know it, but even 200 years ago our countries’ enjoyed close diplomatic and business relations.
Our King at that time had ambitious plans to make Curaçao a flourishing international trading hub, connecting the Netherlands to Colombia and Europe to Latin America.
There was even a Dutch plan for a new canal between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
For various reasons that plan was never realised.
But it illustrates the ambition that has united our countries historically.
And we can still see that ambition today.
Let me give you a few facts.
At present there are over 200 Dutch companies, NGOs and knowledge institutions active in Colombia, and their number is growing.
In 2017 the Netherlands was Colombia’s top European export destination.
For more and more Colombian companies, the Ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol serve as the gateway to Europe.
And of course our highly active Holland House is clear proof that our countries’ trade and investment relations are vibrant and promising.
Mr Van Bokhoven, you have said that Colombia is a land of opportunity, where entrepreneurs can dream of a better future.
All the companies in our delegation are eager to make their dreams come true.
Theirs and yours.
As you know, they focus on water and logistics, agribusiness and horticulture, healthcare and mobility.
These are sectors in which the Netherlands has great expertise.
Sectors that have lots to offer the rest of the world, not least when it comes to innovation, sustainable development and responsible business conduct.
For example, back in the nineteenth century a Dutch engineer drew up plans to place locks in the Canal del Dique.
Today, engineers from Royal HaskoningDHV are working to improve navigation on the Canal, and are finally building those locks.
Another example is the Dutch company Hospitainer, which will soon be supplying the first floating medical units to the department of Guainía in the Amazon region.
And of course we are both cycling nations.
In fact, in the Netherlands we have more bikes than people.
We commute by bike, do our shopping by bike, and take our kids to school by bike.
For people of my generation, Colombia is the land of the great cyclist Luis Herrera.
Today, we all know Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves.
But for the Colombian people too, cycling is becoming more and more a part of daily life.
And we’re proud that the Netherlands will be a guest of honour at biciGo, the first international bicycle exhibition ever held in Colombia, which opens tomorrow.
Ladies and gentlemen, I could give you more examples, but perhaps I’d better not.
After all, you haven’t come here to listen to me talking about the highlights – past and present – of the ties between Colombia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
No, you are here to write the next chapter, to meet new business partners and to build a better future for both Colombia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
And I am here to listen and to help.
So allow me please to raise a glass to your future business success and to the common future of our two countries.