Toespraak

08-12-2016

Belgium – Houston Business Forum

December 8th, 2016


- - - the spoken word alone prevails - - -

 

[Introduction]

 

Excellences,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a true pleasure to speak at this Belgian-Houston Business forum. We do not only share strong common points, but also a very long history. Belgium was actually one of the first nations in the world to recognize the independence of Texas. And already in 1839, General James Hamilton, the Texas Loan Commissioner at that time, spoke with the Belgian government on reduced duty rates on certain Belgian exports to Texas, as well as certain navigation and duty privileges, in exchange for a Belgian loan of fifteen years to Texas. By 1841, the Belgian government sent its first representative to Texas to negotiate trade relations and financial support. In turn, Texas opened a consulate in Antwerp. We bought cotton, corn, and other raw materials from you, and sold you iron, tea and beer in return. It is clear that Belgium’s longstanding relationship with Texas has endured, based on commerce and shared economic interests, symbolized by this current economic mission headed by Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid.

 

[Why Belgium?]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yet, despite this historical bond and the extensive knowledge we have about each other, I was pleased to hear in the previous speech some strengths and advantages of Houston I was not yet aware of. Please allow me in turn to focus on some of the unique features of Belgium. Not only does our country offer one of the few European tax friendly environments for foreign investments. It is also the second most globalized country in the world, a gateway for all of you to Europe, with an access to 500 million customers, and an impressive 80% of Europe’s purchasing power that lies within a radius of 500 miles. Already centuries ago, the cities of Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent and Brussels were at the center of international commerce and trade and in the early 19th century, Wallonia was one of the first hotspots of professional industrialization. Up to this day, Belgium remains at the heart of international exchange thanks to its open economy, central location, highly performant infrastructure and international presence in Brussels, hosting the main European institutions and NATO’s headquarters, challenging in this way even Washington D.C., taking in account the number of diplomatic postings.

Furthermore, one will find in Belgium a highly skilled labor force which is flexible, multilingual and highly efficient. Moreover, through our location, size and already mentioned open economy, Belgians adopted a high degree of hospitality towards people and their businesses. This makes Belgium a perfect test market for many products, as already demonstrated by companies such as Coca-Cola, 3M, Procter & Gamble and Cargill.

 

Life of course is more than only facts and figures, so another reason why it is an excellent idea to invest in Belgium comes to my mind: our quality of life. Be it the food, beers and chocolates, the famous Belgian designers, the shopping opportunities, biking and cycling, culture, quality of housing, education, healthcare, etc. All contribute to the high quality of life standards in Belgium.

Our country lies at the crossroads of Europe, just a stone’s throw away from Paris, London and Amsterdam, which adds to its attractiveness. So it is easy to leave in the French way, to rule the waves in the Albion or to go Dutch during the day and return to Belgian hospitality the very same evening.

 

[Common points]

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next to the unique features of both Houston and Belgium, we also share many common points. We both have an open economy, built on important international ports that offer a privileged access to the European and American inland respectively. Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States has the busiest American port in terms of foreign tonnage and the second-busiest in the US in terms of overall tonnage. The port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-largest seaport, broke a record last year. For the first time in its history, it passed the 200-million-ton mark for the volume of freight handled. Thanks to its continuous growth, it is performing significantly better than other European ports. No less than 32% of Houston trade is with Europe and the container ships, carrying over 4,000 containers a day, make the port of Antwerp a key player in the world for transport of goods to and from the United States. This is also demonstrated by our bilateral trade, which has been recording a sustained growth of 5,2% per annum between 2005 and 2015!

 

[Room for improvement]

 

Yet, Ladies and Gentlemen, there are still prospects for further cross investments. Allow me to mention a few. On the side of existing investments as Solvay, Chevron and Exon, there are for example still other opportunities in the chemical and petrochemical sectors, Houston and Belgium being leaders in these fields thanks to their large port infrastructures. There is also a big potential for energy export, thanks to the opening of the American export market of gas and the important infrastructures for LNG in Belgium, connected to the European network.

 

The US is a leading energy hub in the world and has a lot of knowledge to share in the traditional energy sector, and Belgium is a leader in energy efficiency and has a profound knowhow in passive building with zero or nearly-zero energy use, or even positive energy generation in some buildings.

Agricultural collaboration could also be further enhanced, the US being a champion of hi-tech extensive agriculture and Belgium a leader in intensive and local agriculture.

 

Furthermore, the US can consolidate its offer in services in Europe, and Belgium is well-positioned to welcome American companies as their European logistic platform. The development of Houston requires more and more new public transport infrastructures and Belgium, with one of the highest density population in the developed countries, has a lot to offer in terms of transport infrastructures, logistic and clean transport, like the busses on fuel cells which are already in use in some parts of the US.

 

Houston and Belgium are also important tourist locations and could further exchange their knowhow in the hospitality industry. Furthermore, both players could collaborate in the medical tourism, thanks to their outstanding medical and research facilities. Indeed, a great variety of drugs, such as epilepsy, allergy and HIV medications have been developed in Belgium.

 

And last but not least, in high-tech, a lot of exchanges could be enhanced such as some innovative cargo inspection system to automatically detect threats, or advanced techniques for visual communication such as screens and large display walls for Command Centers, scoring boards, and entertainment screens for important games. The possibilities and opportunities are almost infinite.

 

 [Conclusion]

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 It seems that our ancestors made the correct assessment by paying a great attention to the trade relations between Texas and Belgium. Today, Belgium is Houston’s 12th trading partner and 8th export partner. 12 Belgian firms operate 17 subsidiary locations in the Houston area and 12 Houston firms operate 19 subsidiaries in Belgium. And I am convinced that, like the first Belgian economic mission to Texas 175 years ago, this mission will also open new doors and offer new opportunities to our companies, making our bond closer than ever before.

 

Thank you for your attention.

 

- - - the spoken word alone prevails - - -


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