Opening Trade4U Conference – Belgian Foreign Trade Agency

September 27th, 2017

- - - the spoken word alone prevails - - -


Thank you Madam L’Hoost, Director General of the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency.



Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my turn, I would like to welcome you to this seminar on “International Business Opportunities”, organized by the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency. Many thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis for hosting this event and other sponsors Brussels Airlines and Zetes for their highly-appreciated support. Also thanks to our regional export-promoting authorities: Flanders Investment & Trade, the Wallonia Export-Investment Agency, and Brussels Invest & Export, for their presence and their continuous commitment to our foreign trade.


Belgian Foreign Trade

Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Belgian foreign trade is definitely doing well. Our country enjoys a key strategic position in Europe, it is one of the most innovating and globalized countries in the world, and has one of the most export-oriented economies. Exports amount to an impressive eighty per cent of Belgium’s GDP. So it goes without saying that foreign trade therefore is vital to our economy and prosperity. Indeed, we are among the top countries in the world in which foreign trade has the biggest influence on the economy.


Last year, we certainly took a hit owing to the terrorist attacks of 22 March. Yet, in the end, total Belgian exports were able to record an increase thanks to higher exports in the European Union and Asia. Indeed, Belgian exports increased with 7% to more than 251 billion EUR and imports grew by 4,4% to 247 billion EUR. Although only 0,2% of the world population lives in Belgium, this country was 11th exporter and 13th importer worldwide in 2016. Within the European Union, Belgium took 6th place in both rankings. Also last year, we closed the trade balance with a surplus of 4.1 billion euros, as opposed to a deficit of 2 billion euros the year before. In other words, today, foreign trade creates more domestic jobs than ever before.


International Business Opportunities

This promising trend is of course partly a result of the hard work of all federal and regional actors in a strong spirit of cooperation. Yet, in the first place, it is the fruit of the competitiveness and endless ambition of our companies, who are among the most innovating in the world.


We will continue to support them in every way we can, including by organizing trade missions to strengthen the economic relations with historic partners, and to discover new partners and explore new markets. In a couple of weeks, we will conduct a princely economic mission, headed by HRH Princess Astrid, to Ivory Coast, an important economic hub and gateway to the West African market. And in November, our King and Queen have planned a State Visit to India, one of our largest non-European trade partners, together with a top delegation of Belgian companies. These missions are one of the best tools at our disposal to ensure globalization of our companies and a much-needed diversification of their markets. Today, almost 80% of our exports still go to European countries. However, in order to counter developments such as the Brexit or a growing US protectionism, we must encourage our companies to spread the risks by diversifying. I admit that trade outside the EU involves certain challenges. Yet, with the help of our trade missions and permanent support, and according to the principle of Business 2 Government, we succeed in bringing policymakers and companies together and in clearing the playing field for them. It is therefore a pleasure to observe that most of the companies who dare to make the ‘big jump’ out of Europe, are doing very well.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Secondly, we support our companies by organizing seminars, as the one today, that bring together key players and enables us to discuss new opportunities. Our aim is to inform our companies in the best possible way about business opportunities and the support we can give them in concretizing their plans and projects.


These two pillars of our Belgian Foreign Trade Policy both aim at making our companies globalization proof by diversifying their markets. Indeed, further internationalization and free trade – and definitely not protectionism – are the answer to current and future challenges. The Brexit is a perfect example of how trying to shield yourself off from the world, only creates chaos and uncertainty, and will most likely only produce negative consequences. Indeed, whoever seeks to reverse the tide of evolution, risks to turn into history himself. We must be aware that protectionist visions will continue to pop up, but as a united and strong Europe, and together with like-minded countries, we have to show the world that much more can be gained with free trade and well-balanced free trade agreements. The EU-Japanese Free Trade Agreement for example, is a new and powerful signal of two major economic powers showing that they are rejecting protectionism. The agreement spans more than a quarter of the world economy and is the most important European FTA ever. And there still are a lot of other opportunities for Europe – not only in Asia, but also in Africa and the Americas – that we need to grasp. This is the best response that we can give to protectionism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In a few moments, Mrs. Sylvie Graffe, Director of Finexpo, will present you the new instruments that we have developed in support of our SME’s, the thriving force of our Belgian economy. With these new instruments, we focus on supporting innovative products of our SME’s, who are making their first steps on the international market. But Mrs. Graffe will tell you all there is to know about them.


After the coffee break, Mr. Williams will talk about the World Bank New Procurement framework. Our objective is to help Belgian companies to better identify opportunities that are relevant to them and to make public procurement of the World Bank even more accessible. Subsequently, Mr Haak and Mr Van Veen will elaborate on how BNP Paribas Fortis supports our exporting companies in financing their ideas and projects.

I am looking very much forward to these presentations, as they will certainly open new doors, provide us with inside info and will enable us to exchange ideas and discuss opportunities during a networking lunch, that will close this seminar. I thank you all for your presence and now kindly pass the floor to Mrs. Graffe. Thank you.


Pieter De Crem

Secretary of State for Foreign Trade


- - - the spoken word alone prevails - - -


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