The water challenges of Argentina are great and the ambitions of the country equally. Moreover, the ties with the Netherlands have been tightened considerably in recent years. This combination offers attractive opportunities for the Dutch water sector, at the intersection with agro-food and logistics. Bastiaan Zwikker started in April this year as Chief Representative of the new Netherlands Business Support Office (NBSO) in Córdoba, with more than 1.3 million inhabitants the second city of Argentina. He gives an update on recent developments and prospects.
What are the water challenges for Argentina?
"There is no lack of water in itself, the country is among the world's top five in terms of water resources. But Argentina is noticing the effects of climate change, river floods are more common and the same applies to drought. The economic ambitions, especially for agriculture, also pose considerable water challenges. Two thirds of the country is dry or semi-dry. Yet irrigation is applied to only 5% of the agricultural area. The potential is therefore enormous. Argentina is already producing food for 400 million people, nine times as much as its own population, and that can easily go up to 600 million people.
Argentina has 44 million inhabitants, 7 million of whom have no access to clean drinking water, and almost half have no proper sanitation. The government wants to ensure that all people in cities have clean drinking water and that three-quarters of the houses have sanitation facilities. The current government led by President Macri has presented a comprehensive water plan, earmarking $ 40 billion. Macri sees the Netherlands as a strategic partner for the development and implementation; a Memorandum of Understanding between both countries was signed during his state visit in 2017.
The Netherlands and Argentina have engaged in a very intensive cooperation in a wide variety of water-related fields. At the end of 2018, both countries presented two large bilateral pre-feasibility studies into a sustainable Parana Delta and into a possible large inland waterway for water management and agro logistics. Measures that result from this can offer opportunities for the Dutch sector.’
What is the focus of the Netherlands with regard to Argentina and water?
‘The Netherlands has three spearheads in its relationship with Argentina: agri-food, logistics and water, with strong interaction. Because logistics for instance is about port development and making rivers navigable. Agrofood involves efficient irrigation, in which the rivers again play an important role. And heavy rainfall is increasingly causing flooding of those rivers, threatening harvests and causing problems to navigate.
The Netherlands has a lot to offer to meet these challenges, as the studies that are currently being conducted clearly show. For example, flood protection and integrated water resource management, but also innovative solutions for efficient irrigation and waste water treatment.’
How does your support as NBSO take shape?
‘We are there to identify opportunities and to support Dutch entrepreneurs with everything that is important to be successful here. We are the only country with such a trading office in Córdoba. We help by providing information: about laws and regulations, about the market and sectors, trends and developments. We also offer proactive support, together with the embassy, for example during trade fairs and in the media. And of course we make our network available to make contacts for companies looking for a local partner with good references, who perform above standard.’
What are the most important challenges when doing business in Argentina and how do you deal with them?
‘It starts with having patience. First invest in the relationship, get to know people and companies well. Arriving by plane, holding a few meetings, putting something on paper and then carrying it out: that is not how it works in Argentina. The good relationship with the Netherlands helps to build that relationship. Our reputation in the field of water, of course, but also through football and Queen Máxima: there’s a lot to talk about before you start talking business.
Another advice: make sure who is at the table, who really makes the decisions. I experienced it myself. For example, you reach an agreement with the management of a family business and think that the deal is done, but then it appears that the management is the second generation, that the father is actually still pulling the strings. And 85% of Argentinian companies are family businesses.
Lastly, there is a fairly large difference between the capital and the interior. Buenos Aires is a sophisticated city, focused on the sea and the rest of the world, not on its own hinterland. The capital is also more formal, with strong hierarchical structures. The interior, and also Córdoba, is more familiar, warmer.’
What is the next step for a company that wants to know more about the support given by NBSO?
‘Do not hesitate to call or email us. In an extensive Skype call, for example, we can identify your needs, answer your questions, give tips and together look at the next steps. So bring on your plans and ambitions!’ Look here for more information and contact details.
Are you interested in doing business in Argentina or like to join the Country Platform meetings in the Netherlands to exchange opportunities, experiences and knowledge? Please contact Audrey Legat at the Netherlands Water Partnership, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Country Platform Argentina
Dutch organisations that are interested in Argentina or already have activities in this country, can join the Country Platform of the Partners for Water programme, coordinated by Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP). As part of the programme, NWP also stimulates cooperation between the water sectors of both countries and conducts market studies.
About NBSO Argentina
NBSOs, Netherlands Business Support Offices, are foreign trade offices of the Dutch government executed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RvO.nl). An NBSO helps to find representatives, business partners, provides market information and shares knowledge about local laws and regulations.
NBSOs are located in promising regions, where there is no embassy or consulate. They are part of the foreign economic network and are committed to promoting trade and investment in the region where they are located. A Dutch Chief Representative and a local Deputy Representative are available at an NBSO.