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News | 6 December 2018

Blog: Stronger foundation for Colombian-Dutch cooperation on water and logistics

Mission to Colombia
A good long-term vision and matching quick action. This is the ideal balance for Colombia when it comes to coastal protection, port development and the navigability of rivers and canals. Colombia and the Netherlands are working on cooperating in this area, as revealed during the trade mission by Prime Minister Rutte to Colombia, from 25 to 29 November. Arthur van Dijk, Chairman of Transport and Logistics Netherlands, led the mission’s water and logistics delegation. He confirms that the basis for cooperation has been strengthened.

Navigable rivers and coastal protection

“Colombia faces huge water and logistics challenges – you hardly know where to start. For us, it is all about a few important things. Firstly, the Magdalena river which, at over 1,500 kilometres long, is by far the most important river in the country. However, it is barely navigable. Almost all transport goes by road and the quality of the road network is also not optimal. Good water management, locks and river bank protection, and good governance would both make the river navigable again and manage flooding sustainably. This would give the country a huge economic boost. In parallel to the river, the same is true for Canal del Dique which connects the Magdalena River to Cartagena Bay. The canal is also barely navigable, partly due to sedimentation from the Magdalena River. This same sedimentation is also causing problems in the bay of the beautiful historic city of Cartagena."

"Coastal protection is another big issue. In Cartagena, for example, water regularly seeps over the boulevard and will only get worse in the coming years. The rising water level in the city is also bringing hygiene problems, and the rainwater does not properly drain away. In the meantime, Colombia has great ambitions in the field of port development. The country needs to map out a clear pathway to tackling all these issues simultaneously. It needs to protect itself from rising water while strengthening its ports and waterways."

Long-term relationship

"This was my third visit to Colombia, and I am pleased to report that we have further built on our relationship. We laid the foundation in April 2017 when we held the first Colombian-Dutch dialogue on water, logistics and transport. My second visit was last August, when we had the opportunity to meet Iván Duque, who had just been elected as President. The Colombia-the Netherlands relationship is now firmly on the table."

"You need a long-term vision to work with themes such as water and logistics, and a long-term relationship to make it work. You need to be connected to both the government currently in power, as well as to the next one and the one after that. Colombia shows great interest in the cluster approach that is common in the Netherlands, whereby public, private and knowledge institutes work together in top sectors."

From planning stage to project tendering

"As I mentioned previously, the mission to Colombia has strengthened the basis for cooperation between our two countries. It was, of course, very valuable that Prime Minister Rutte was able to visit Colombia on his way to the G20 in Argentina. We had good meetings, with great interest on the Colombian side. We had in-depth discussions with the new Minister of Infrastructure who underlined the country’s willingness to continue doing business with the Netherlands. Our impression is that the current government wants to move ahead, from the planning stage through to project tendering."

"We are well aware that Colombia has a completely different culture and business landscape. Everything seems to go through certain steps, which can make it quite difficult to do business. Our message was: think big, act small, scale fast. So start with well-organised projects, but at the same time make sure that they fit into the big picture so that you do not lose sight of the greater goal. That is why we want to start by developing a few flagship projects such as on the navigability of the Magdalena River or the Canal del Dique, and on coastal protection. There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s worth it!"

The mission to Colombia was one of Arthur van Dijk’s last activities in his capacity as Chairman of Transport and Logistics Netherlands. As of 1 January 2019, he will be the new King's Commissioner in the Province of Noord-Holland.

More information

The programme for water and logistics, with seminars in Bogotá and Cartagena, was part of the Dutch trade mission to Colombia led by Prime Minister Rutte. The water and logistics programme was organised by NWP, the Dutch Embassy in Colombia and Holland House. The mission comprised some 45 companies and was supported by the Partners for Water Programme. For more information please contact Edilberto Baquero, e.baquero@nwp.nl.

(Photo: Netherlands embassy in Colombia)