Toespraak

05-02-2018

Belgium-Luxembourg Business Association

Singapore - February 5th, 2018


- - - the spoken word alone prevails - - -

 

Introduction

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a true pleasure to be in your midst and to see many familiar faces. My last mission to Singapore followed shortly after the start of the Federal Government in 2014. That mission, headed together with Princess Astrid, already made it very clear that our countries share many similarities. It succeeded in identifying numerous opportunities to strengthen our bilateral trade and mutual investments. I am very pleased that we managed to concretize several of these opportunities in the past 1000 days. I will of course continue to strive for bringing our countries closer together, among others with the pursuit of a direct flight between Singapore and Brussels, but I’ll come back to this in a couple of minutes. Let me first say something about Belgian foreign trade in general and talk about some main focus points of my policy.

 

Belgian foreign trade

Being the 3rd most globalized country and having one of the most open economies in the world – we export more than 80% of our GDP – Belgium is highly dependent on its foreign trade. Therefore, I am pleased to say that our trade and our economy are doing well. We closed 2016 for the first time in nine years with a positive trade balance and we succeeded in strengthening this positive trend in 2017. Today, 1 out of six jobs in our country depends on exports, and this share will only increase in the years to come. In short, foreign trade is now more than ever responsible for jobs in our own country.

 

We will also continue to monitor the competitiveness of our companies. In three years’ time, we have eliminated our wage handicap with our neighboring countries and our economy is expected to grow almost 2% this year. My policy will continue to focus on attracting foreign investments and also pay attention to human capital, Research & Development and academic cooperation. Belgium, together with Singapore and Switzerland, formed the top 3 in Bloomberg’s global innovation ranking of July 2017. So both our countries understand that innovation is the key to growth and pushing boundaries, both literally and figuratively,  making our companies true pioneers in many traditional and new sectors.

 

In addition, we continue to promote free trade within the framework of the European Union. Recent trade agreements with Canada and Japan offer new opportunities to our companies. Free trade must motivate them to further diversify their markets and thus become fully “globalization proof”. After all, we’re still playing mainly on familiar grounds at this moment. Approximately 78% of our exports go to European countries and our main trading partners are our neighboring countries Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK, which together receive more than 50% of our exports.

 

These close and historical trade relations must of course be further strengthened, but in order to counter developments such as the Brexit or a growing US protectionism, we must encourage our companies to further diversify their markets. And for those that are not convinced yet, the European Commission has recently calculated that 90% of global economic growth will occur outside the EU in the following decades. Pushing our boundaries is therefore also the ambition of our economic missions, be it in the form of State Visits, Princely missions or thematic and punctual missions such as this current one.

 

In this context, supporting actions for airline companies are of the utmost importance. In the past years, I have been strongly committed to the launch (or relaunch) of connections between our country and Toronto, Atlanta, Mumbai and Shanghai.

 

New connection Brussels – Singapore

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

So you will understand the importance of the renewal of the air connection between Brussels and Singapore in view of what I said before about the origins of future economic growth. If growth will mainly occur outside of the EU and if by consequence an export-dependent country like ours must ensure its future overseas, then the establishment or re-establishment of transport links between our country and one of these ever-growing markets becomes of paramount importance.

 

Already Singapore accounts for two-thirds of our trade with ASEAN countries. Already Singapore hosts the most important Belgian community of any city in Asia.  And 220 Belgian companies are established here, 10 of which are in the BEL-20.

30,000 Belgians visited Singapore last year. And DEME is currently making sure, through its biggest contract in the world, that Singapore will have once again the largest port in the world.

In Belgium meanwhile, the PSA’s joint venture with MSC accounts for more than 85 % of the handling of maritime containers in the port of Antwerp.

And numerous international companies have invested both in Singapore and in Antwerp.

So the base is there. And the prospects are bright. Because the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Singapore will further boost trade and investment and will enhance the need of direct talks between EU and Singapore administrations.

Furthermore, in the wider context of things, we have seen recently that views about the importance of free trade and a rules-based world  have come under scrutiny, and not only from its traditional opponents. Taking this into account, it seems inevitable that countries like Belgium and Singapore, who still firmly hold these beliefs, will need to consult and co-operate more on how to defend this system, the system on which they depend for their prosperity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What I want to say is that a direct flight between Belgium and Singapore would not only capitalize on ties that exist already between our countries, but would also act as an accelerator for those ties and as a creator of new ones, thus helping us to generate the growth our future prosperity will increasingly depend upon.  

 

Conclusion

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Belgium and Singapore demonstrate many similarities and our companies face very similar challenges. It is my belief that the importance of our bilateral partnership will increase significantly in this 21st century. I count on all of you, the Belgian community in Singapore, to play a leading role in strengthening these ties. You are responsible for the image of our country, you present the knowhow and expertise and are in the best position in the search for new opportunities. I thank you for your continuous commitment and encourage you to keep up the good work! Thank you!

 

- - - the spoken word alone prevails - - -


< Vorige bericht