Toespraak van DG Agro Marjolijn Sonnema bij de opening van ProFlora in Colombia

Toespraak van DG Agro & Natuur Marjolijn Sonnema bij de opening van ProFlora, op 4 oktober 2017 in Bogotá Colombia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you all here, at the opening of ProFlora 2017, the world’s largest meeting place for the flower industry. The Netherlands has the honour to be the special guest country this year. It is a funny feeling to be the host in a country that’s not your own.

That of course, is not without a reason. We are talking about very important players here on the global level. And, when it comes to flowers, the Dutch feel at home here, in beautiful Colombia.

Both our countries focus their production on high value fruits and vegetables, and high quality flowers.
In fact, our countries are the first and second largest exporters of flowers worldwide.

So, ladies and gentlemen – it is not a coincidence that I am standing here today, in such good company. But there is more to iy. Over the past few years, I have followed what has been happening in Colombia with great interest.

I can see the many positive developments and of course the encouraging progress of the peace process. How important this peace process is goed without saying. For Colombia and the Colombian people, for us, for the whole world.

The same is true for the crucial role rural development and agriculture play within this process. And we in the Netherlands, both the public and private sector, are very committed to support this process with know how, technology and innovations. As we always have been.

In the Netherlands, we see roses, carnations and chrysanthemums coming from Colombia every day. So, on my trip to Colombia, it was our turn to bring something from the Netherlands to Colombia. Not flowers, not Heineken – no, something much better: an Agricultural Counsellor, mrs. Patricia de Vries – van Loon.

Some of you may wonder: what is an Agricultural Counsellor, exactly? Agricultural Counsellors are, in a way, ambassadors specializing in agricultural affairs. They promote agricultural trade and knowledge exchange in countries that we collaborate with. And now, Colombia has an Agricultural Counsellor too. Mrs. de Vries – van Loon will play an important role in supporting agricultural developments in Colombia, and maintaining the agricultural relations between our countries.

It is no surprise that we have installed an Agricultural Counsellor here. The trade relations between Colombia and the Netherlands are excellent. Our mutual export numbers have grown steadily over the past few years. That is partly due to the free trade agreement between the EU and Colombia, which was established in 2013. Colombian export to the Netherlands has increased particularly over the past few years: from 276 million in 2014, to 415 million in 2016. In 2016 the Netherlands was the third export market for Colombia in the world, only after the US and Panama – and so, the first export market in the EU.

A considerable part of that export is made up of fruits and flowers. Colombia and the Netherlands do not just trade: many Dutch companies are active in this country. And many more companies are interested in doing their business here. A number of them have joined me on my trip, and will showcase their business in the Holland Pavilion. The companies all have their own expertise when it comes to the flower sector: from greenhouses to sorting machines, and from packaging machines to an app that lets you design your own flower bouquet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The new Agricultural Counsellor, the Dutch companies, and myself are here for one and the same reason: we all see that Colombia has a lot of agricultural potential – not just in horticulture, but also in dairy and in climate-smart agriculture. It is of outstanding importance to turn that potential into power.

Yesterday, I spoke to the vice minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Colombia’s potential may be checked by logistical challenges – for example, transport can be quite difficult across the Colombian mountains. In addition, the majority of Colombian farmers does not have access to advanced agricultural technology to help them expand their business. And the rising minimum wages make it more and more urgent to switch to automated farming. In short, there is work to be done in order to keep on growing.

The Netherlands are experts on those fields, and are more than willing to share their knowledge with Colombia. In fact, there are quite a number of initiatives already happening in Colombia. Take, for example, the Knowledge and Training Centre Horticulture Colombia. This centre will act as a platform to exchange knowledge and technology between Colombian producers and students, and Dutch suppliers of horticulture equipment and technology. In the long term, the center will develop horticulture training courses at the Colombian Tadeo and Sabana universities. This will create business opportunities for the Dutch, and it will  improve the efficiency and productivity of the sector in Colombia.

In collaborations like the one I just mentioned, both our countries can benefit from our partnership. To make the most of Colombia’s potential is not just beneficial to Colombia and the Netherlands, but to the world as a whole: By optimizing agriculture, we also address global challenges regarding effective water use, minimizing environmental impact, and increasing food security and safety for all. This is our responsibility, as countries known for their high quality agricultural products.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Whether you are from Colombia, the Netherlands or any other country in the world: flowers mark a special occasion, a celebration of some kind. Today is all about flowers, and I think it is all about celebration, too.

We celebrate the excellent collaboration between Colombia and the Netherlands, we celebrate the potential that we will help each other develop, and we celebrate the new Agricultural Counsellor.

I wish you all a beautiful, colourful stay at the ProFlora 2017. Thank you.