Jan Willem van Bokhoven – Holland House

Some time ago we had the opportunity to interview Jan Willem van Bokhoven, who has been active in the Dutch-Latin American business for over 15 years. He is director of the Holland House in Colombia; an organization that functions as a public-private intermediate to promote trade and investment, and provide advice to Dutch and Colombian businesses. Jan Willem explains in this interview how HollandHouse can help entrepreneurs and why the Colombian market is booming!

How can HollandHouse help Dutch companies in Colombia?

Holland House supports Dutch companies with their market entry and expansion in Colombia, through diverse services and formulas, such as; market research, sector studies, trade missions, trade fairs and permanent commercial supporting. The number of successful Dutch companies within the Colombian market has been quadrupled in the past 5 years.

Why is now the time for companies to enter the Colombian market?

There are numerous reasons why companies should seek for an international expansion to Colombia. Just to name a few:

  • The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between EU-Colombia and the openness of Colombia for international trade.
  • Colombia is one of the bigger upcoming economies in the world; belonging to the top-30 economies, a strong growing middle class, 50 million inhabitants and a stable economic growth.
  • Strategic Geographical location and Pacific Alliance which makes the country a perfect  base for Dutch companies who want to cover the region.

What makes Colombia attractive for Dutch companies?

The sectors in which Colombian organizations need knowledge, skills and technology form a powerful combination with what the Netherlands business world has to offer: Agro, horticulture, life sciences & health, transport & logistics and water.

Which developments have you seen over the past years regarding entrepreneurship?

Colombia has structurally improved its business climate in the past years. Opposed to other countries within Latin America, it scores higher than any other country on the scales of “ease of doing business” and “investor protections”. This is clearly stated in the indexes of the WorldBank. These improvements are basis for a positive outlook for coming years. 

Which steps do you advice companies to follow while doing  business in Colombia?

  • Start with thoroughly researching the product-market combination in Colombia. With this, preparation is key!
  • Explore the market. For instance through a focused visit to Colombia to get in touch with the right trading partners
  • Make the follow-up as personal as possible; a telephone conversation as follow-up is way more effective than an e-mail.
  • Be sure to regularly plan follow-up visits; stay in touch and keep your contacts warm.

What do you see as the main differences between doing business in the Netherlands and Colombia?

For starters, Colombia is more hierarchical than the Netherlands. Status plays a bigger part in business here. Besides, it is important to first build a personal relationship with one person. Talking business and involving the company comes second. Last but not least, in Colombian culture haste makes waste. Patience is a virtue.

Thank you Jan-Willem! Curious about your opportunities in the Colombian market?

As Jan Willem mentioned, thorough preparation and market research is key for a successful entrance in the Colombian market. We, as International Research Project, can provide you with such customized research at cost price, followed by a strategic advice on your market entry. Through our research we can support you in making informed, locally verified, data-driven decisions. Get in touch now for a free research proposal!

In recognition of Colombia’s growing presence on the international fresh produce markets, we shine a light on Colombia as an emerging supplier to global markets and one of the continent’s most dynamic produce markets.

Colombia’s growing fruit and vegetable industry

The country is rapidly becoming an attractive source of high-quality fruits and vegetables for the international market. Due its wide massive variety of microclimates and fertile soils that produce an exceptional range of fruits, including avocados, physalis, mangoes, passionfruit and blueberries, to name just a few.

Improved access to new markets and a new record level of foreign investment are creating an abundance of opportunities for producers in Europe and Asia. “This is Colombia’s moment,” says Felipe Jaramillo, president of ProColombia. “As we enter a new post-war era, the macroeconomic indicators are excellent. But one of the biggest challenges we face is to make our producers a more constant and permanent presence in export markets.”

Colombia also has a thriving fresh fruit import market and one of the most dynamic retail sectors in Latin America. It is one of the region’s biggest importers of apples, pears and grapes and there is growing scope to develop consumer demand for new product categories such as cherries and blueberries.

The Fruitnet Forum Colombia

Fruitnet Forum Colombia will be held on 26-27 June 2018 at the Hilton Hotel in Bogotá’s exclusive financial district, bringing together decision makers from throughout Colombia’s fresh fruit and vegetable business, and from across the rest of the world.” A programme of senior-level international speakers will analyse the key issues affecting today’s produce industry, offering an invaluable insight into new expansion opportunities and how to avoid some of the pitfalls that could stall future growth.

How you can profit from this growth.

Staying ahead of the game with the most up-to-date and comprehensive knowledge is vital in today’s competitive global market. Long-term business success also comes down to the ability to make the right kind of relationships with the right kind of people.

We, as International Research Project, can provide you with strategic advice on your position in the fruit and vegetable industry in Colombia. We do this through customized research at cost price, that will provide you clear strategy and map of your biggest opportunities. Through our research we can support you in making informed, locally verified, data-driven decisions.

Source: FruitNet

As the country enters the lead-up period to the presidential elections in May 2018, we inform you about Colombia’s political and economic forecast in this blog. The sequence of events in the last couple of years has left the country divided politically and has paved the way for independent candidates and those from smaller parties to make their voices heard and appeal to the electorate.

Colombia’s Presidential Candidates in 2018
Currently leading the polls is the left-leaning independent candidate, Sergio Fajardo. The former mayor of Medellin and former governor of Antioquia is known for his stance supporting environmental and social issues. With Fajardo as president, local and foreign businesses may see themselves operating in a more inclusive society and within a more stable infrastructure boosted by increased public spending.

The runner-up candidate is socialist Gustavo Petro, who is also participating as an independent. He is the former mayor of Bogotá and also a former M-19 guerrilla, known for his strong leftist views. If Petro wins the presidency, he may well push forward a strong anti-corruption initiative which in turn would encourage more FDI in the country.

Following in third place is German Vargas. This candidate is the most traditional politician and a conservative alternative to the two above. In his previous role as vice-president, he was responsible for dealing with major infrastructure projects and improving Colombia’s international competitiveness. He can be seen as the most typically business-friendly candidate.

With the abundance of 21 potential candidates, much is up for debate as to the likely outcome of the upcoming elections. One certainty, however, is that whoever does take over the reins will be presented with an opportunity to unite Colombians and lead the country into more prosperous times.

Economic Prospects for Colombia in 2018



In fact, regardless of which candidate becomes president, prospects are looking up for the country and its economy in the coming years. The World Bank has predicted GDP to grow by 2.9% in 2018 (up from 1.7% in 2017) with that number rising to 3.4% in their predictions for 2019 and 2020.

It further explains its optimism for Colombia in its “Global Economic Prospects” report:

“Growth in Colombia is expected to pick up through the forecast period as moderating inflation supports private consumption, export growth recovers on rising oil prices, the 4G road infrastructure program is executed, and structural reforms to enhance competitiveness and foster diversification are implemented.”

Undoubtedly, this is good news for Colombians and, although Colombia is not without its problems, the new president will take office in a much more optimistic economic climate. Consequently, this is also good news for investors or those looking to expand their business abroad and branch out to this dynamic and fast developing part of the world.

If you are currently doing business in Colombia or you’re considering taking the jump; we have a team of  18 dedicated and ambitious master’s students who can help you with any strategic questions you may have. Contact us at externalaffairs@irp-maa.nl for more information about how we can help you increase your business in Colombia.

Watch this video from Biz Latin Hub to learn more about why you should invest in Colombia!


Source: BizLatinHub


Farmers who fled war in the Colombian Andes are returning to revive their abandoned land, cultivating coffee trees that are boosting global supplies of the highest-quality arabica beans. A peace deal between the government and the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in late 2016 paved the way for many coffee growers to their homes and farms.

The revival of coffee farming in the former conflict zones could help boost Colombia’s coffee output by 40 percent, according to government estimates. That would raise global supplies of mild arabica beans by about 13 percent. The additional supply could reduce the cost of the raw material for the world’s top roasters, many of whom are seeking to secure increased supply from Colombia.

The area now has about 800 hectares of coffee farms, double the low of 400 hectares during the war. That’s still only about half of the 1,500 hectares prior to the conflict, according to data from the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC). The combination of farmers returning to their abandoned land and others switching to coffee could help boost the country’s total output to a record 20 million 60-kg bags by 2020, the government estimates, up from 14.2 million bags in 2016.


International roasters, like Starbucks Co and Nestle, have jumped at the opportunity to buy more beans from Colombia, the world’s third-largest coffee producer and the source of a third of the world’s mild arabica supplies.

Nestle Nespresso, for instance, bought it first beans from a post-conflict region in 2016 and is now launching it as a limited edition. “A lot of these regions, nobody had even been in and tasted the coffee until recently,” said Katherine Graham, Nestle Nespresso’s corporate communications manager; “There are some areas with strong potential.”

Starbucks Co expanded its partnership with the United States Agency for International Development to give 1,000 farmers in post-conflict zones agricultural training. It also partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank to support 2,000 farmers in Colombia – mainly women – with a loan initiative.

Back near San Carlos, farmer Rubiela Cuervo works a remote farm with her family. She fled to Medellin to escape the violence in 2005 but struggled to make a living and returned a year later despite the ongoing violence. She has expanded the farm as peace returned to the area in recent years.

“We hope that peace will bring us more employment, more income for our work,” she said. “I’m hoping not to be displaced again.”

Source: CNBC

Fishermen who make their living from the Cauca River in the south of Colombia have had their daily task made easier by adapting their traditional rafts to solar power.

That is just one of the concrete sustainable actions enabled by Pacto Planeta(link is external), a civil society organization designing, implementing and tracking high impact social and environmental projects in 12 provinces in Colombia. Its main goal is to help organizations with environmental projects to maximise their impact.

The project works closely with School Laboratories for Sustainable Development (LEDS) and has three main action areas: environment and climate change, designing pedagogical notebooks to learn maths and English with exercises based around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and, training of teachers.

The LEDS scheme helps schools in socially vulnerable populations by teaching students about the six SDGs relating to climate change, food security, gender equality and health. This is done through one-year voluntary programmes that include building educational spaces within schools which act as laboratories for learning about the SDGs, building community gardens, classrooms with low cost ecology construction techniques, solar plants, compost systems and improving communal spaces with murals which are also directed to inspire girls particularly to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Catering for a variety of needs

Project Manager Christhian Verdugo said: ‘We work with a huge variety of different communities, urban and rural, including different ethnic groups, indigenous people, and populations who have suffered violence and displacement.”

‘Everyone’s needs are different. In Bogota, we have many people who have fled guerrilla conflict to restart their lives and need employment. In urban areas, the need might be for sustainable agriculture or we might teach people how to turn garbage into ecobricks for fuel. In particularly arid regions like Cartagena where there is little soil, hydroponic growing can make an enormous difference. Indigenous communities may suffer social issues like food insecurity.’

Since its inception, Pacto Planeta has taken part in more than 350 corporate volunteer activities in 12 provinces of Colombia working with communities, teachers, students from early childhood and their parents. It also participated in two UN Youth Assemblies in New York.

The LEDS project is currently financed by private business and the plan for 2018 is to secure funding from large business foundations. By 2020, Pacto Planeta will be present in 20 % of public schools in Colombia and is already looking to expand.

‘Last year I was in the UN Assembly and shared our work with many Guatemalan friends and colleagues who have the same vision. Many of the problems and social issues they are facing are the same as in Colombia. We plan to spread the work we are doing here to Guatemala where there are already similar projects.’

For Christhian, the greatest challenge remains convincing people whose lives have been scarred by conflict to believe in sustainable development values.

‘The easiest to convince are children and young people who are open and responsive to the work that is needed to be done to reach the targets of the SDGs,” he said.

Children who have taken part in growing their own gardens or managing water wisely easily take up leadership roles in their local environments and become adults who promote sustainable solutions.

‘The remaining challenge is to convince the 30 to 40-year-olds who are poor and living in areas which have suffered from guerrilla conflict. They are suspicious about everything,’ Christhian said.

And there is a need to prepare for the future.

‘The end of the conflict in several regions of Colombia will lead to the creation of new population centres and the development of small economic centres, which is why new generations living in these regions should be made aware of sustainable alternatives for developing their communities in post-conflict scenarios,’ he said


Source: UNICEF

The New Year is upon us and the January editorial is always one of the most difficult, as getting back into a writing mode after the Christmas holiday requires plenty of stamina. But Colombians are a resilient lot having dealt with the vicissitudes of 2017, from tax reform to a post-conflict.

This year will be marked by presidential elections and a decisive – if not divisive – moment for all. Even though it is too premature to make predictions, as the race officially gets underway January 27 when all candidates are required to register, a handful of experienced politicians have announced their intention to run, but have not come forward with clear platforms as to where they would lead this country if elected on May 27. And should no candidate clinch the first round, a presidential run-off is scheduled for June 17.

Democratic change is looming on the horizon, and if there is one issue that will mark the 2018 presidential race is the future of the Final Accord with FARC. Besides Humberto de la Calle who led the peace team in Havana and Sergio Fajardo, German Vargas has been vocal with his “No” stance on an agreement that was put to Colombians in a 2016 nationwide plebiscite.

Former presidents Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Andrés Pastrana are hammering out options for an official candidate for their Despierta Colombia alliance. Former Minister of Defense Marta Lucía Ramírez is Pastrana’s choice, but the ultra-conservative ex-Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez believes his name should also be included in this conservative coalition.

With just over four months before the first round, the candidates on the “No” camp will have to  justify to the Colombian electorate how they would make amends to the peace process with FARC; and a demobilized group firmly entrenched as a political party. FARC are not immune to the political climate and should they feel out-manoeuvred in these historic post-conflict elections, they could consider breaking away from politics all together and make a return to the mountains where the insurgency began.

By the time Colombians head to the ballot, it will almost be two years since the government of Juan Manuel Santos signed the peace process with FARC. Too much has been gained in the search for peace, despite an imperfect implementation of the post-conflict. But the post-conflict is what needs to be addressed – not the Final Accord.

Source: The City Paper Bogota