Foreign Trade and the role of the bilateral Chambers

BLCCA Academy 2015, Mons, May, 28th

- - - The spoken word alone prevails - - -





Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a true pleasure to be here in your midst today. I have understood from Mr. Van Gulck and Mr. Giromini that you had a very busy program yesterday with visits to the Microsoft Innovation Centre, Mons University, the company Fishing Cactus, and the exhibition “Napoleon, patron of the arts”. A perfect prelude to the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo. A battle that showed once more the strategic location of this country, forming a link between the Latin, German and Anglo-Saxon cultures. It is thanks to this central location that we still are and will remain a privileged access point to Europe and a top destination for foreign investments.



Mesdames et Messieurs,

Il m’est un véritable plaisir et honneur d’être ici parmi vous aujourd’hui. J’ai compris de la part de Mr. Van Gulck et de Mr. Giromini que vous avez effectué un programme très chargé hier avec des visites au Microsoft Innovation Centre, à l’Université de Mons, à la société Fishing Cactus, et à l’exposition « Napoléon, protecteur des arts », un prélude parfait pour le bicentenaire de la bataille de Waterloo. Une bataille qui a montré une fois de plus la position stratégique de ce pays, formant un lien entre les cultures latine, germanique et anglo-saxonne. Il est grâce à cet emplacement central que nous sommes et resterons à jamais un point d’accès privilégié à l’Europe et une destination de choix pour les investisseurs étrangers.


[Foreign Trade Policy]



Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by making some comments about my policy and the role of the Chambers herein:

Hard times lie behind us, and we are still facing major challenges today. The road to economic recovery is a long one. It is a process that must be accomplished step by step. And in this process, we must make choices and persevere in order to regain a healthy and sustainable economic growth. It is therefore crucial to ensure that our businesses are the first to reap the fruits of economic recovery. And it is up to the politicians, assisted by other protagonists such as the Chambers of Commerce, to create the right conditions in which the businesses are able to tackle today’s challenges in the most efficient possible way.


As all of you know, the Belgian economy is among the most open, export-oriented economies in the world. This is why our image and our voice abroad are crucial factors for the trust that foreign investors have in our country and our economy. This is exactly why I do not only want to be the contact point within the federal Government for the Belgian businesses in the context of exports, but also in the return direction as the point of contact for foreign companies that are interest to invest in Belgium.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

In short, my main objectives are to strengthen the position of our companies on a global level, to improve our balance of trade, to regain lost market shares and to improve the investment climate in our own country. If we want to achieve this, we will have to work hard for it and not take anything for granted.


Mesdames et Messieurs,

En bref, mes principaux objectifs sont de renforcer la position de nos entreprises à l’échelle mondiale, d’améliorer notre balance commerciale, de regagner les parts de marché perdues et d’améliorer le climat d’investissement au sein de notre pays. Si nous voulons atteindre ces objectifs, nous devrons travailler dur et ne jamais rien prendre pour acquis. 


[Role of the Chambers of Commerce]


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The role of the Chambers of Commerce in achieving these objectives is of great importance. In my eyes, your main tasks are the following:


To organize network events to inform, to introduce, to intervene and to promote our image. Of course, this should be in line with Belgian economic interests and, in an ideal world, be demand-driven, at the request of the businesses. A lot of my missions and interventions are also demand-driven, and I can assure you that they yield important results, as recently proved by missions to India, Brazil, Turkey and Azerbaijan and the United States.


This brings us to a second task: to support missions that highlight the strong points of Belgium and put potential investors in contact with Belgian entrepreneurs.


In the other direction, to assist Belgian businessmen- and women in the search for future partners, inform them of business opportunities and general economic and market information.


And finally maintain and expand your database of contacts.


You are doing an excellent job in all these areas. During the recent economic mission to Turkey for example, it was the president of the Belgian-Turkish Chamber of Commerce in Istanbul who organized the first networking opportunity by organizing a reception at his house. The Belgian-Arab Chamber, in turn, has played a very important role in the princely mission of last March, in particular with regard to the seminar on Belgium in Dubai, or through the presence of its Secretary-General Mr. Hijazin, at the talks with the Qatari customs on the acceptance of electronically delivered certificates of origin. 

However, as mentioned in my policy statement and as repeated during the Gaichel, the joint Belgian-Luxemburg Council of Ministers, I want the Chambers of Commerce to be even more involved than they are already today. I want to work together to further improve your functioning, where possible of course, and to make the best practices applicable to all.


Cependant, comme mentionné dans ma note de politique générale et comme répété entre autres lors du Gaichel, la réunion conjointe des Conseils de gouvernement luxembourgeois et belge, je veux que les Chambres de Commerce soient encore plus engagés qu’ils ne l’ont été jusqu’à présent. Je veux travailler ensemble avec vous, pour améliorer votre fonctionnement, où possible bien évidemment, et pour rendre les meilleures pratiques applicables à toutes.


Allow me to propose some possible focus points:


Improve the role of the Chambers of Commerce in the search for trade opportunities and in solving trade barriers;


Improve the functioning in both directions. By this I mean that we must pay enough attention to the promotion of Belgium as a distribution centre for Europe. The Chambers are a perfect contact point for foreign investors, and have an important task in orienting newcomers in Belgium;


Help propagating the image of Belgium abroad. This can be done, for example, by co-organizing Belgian Business Days, Belgian Business Mixers, Speed Business Meetings, conferences and seminars, or maybe organizing a presentation of an award for most innovative entrepreneur of the year. All of these examples will contribute to greater cohesion within the Belgian community and a greater visibility of the Belgian Chamber of Commerce among the Belgian companies and the local economic actors. In this endeavour, we should also keep in mind the important role played by the local media in order to increase Belgium’s visibility abroad. And of course, a strategy must be evaluated on a regular basis, and we must learn from each other, as I already mentioned before.


Finally, I want to stress that these missions must be done in cooperation with all authorities. Therefore, a good relationship between the diplomatic missions and the Chambers is very important. Generally speaking, this relationship is already very good. However, some Chambers located here in Brussels have relatively little contact with the foreign missions. To solve this, we could for example involve the Chambers of Commerce in the Diplomatic Days and bring them in contact with the heads of mission.


[Future of the Chambers of Commerce]



Ladies and Gentlemen,

This being said, I will now make some remarks about the financing of the Chambers of Commerce. As all of you know, the federal level finances the operating grants, ensuring its everyday functioning and achieving its social aim, and the three regions jointly finance the project grants (missions, seminars, workshops). Like many others, you are already facing cuts in this budget today, due to a decrease in operating grants of 20 %. However, some significant efforts have also been made to make life easier for you. For example:


In recent years, a simplification in obtaining operating grants from the federal Government has already taken place. The pay-out now happens in one part rather than in two parts, after obtaining the debt certificate.


Since this year, an agreement by an external auditor or the board of directors is sufficient when submitting the annual accounts,


Other possibilities for simplification are being examined, such as in the field of verifying supporting documents and invoices.


Finally, attention is given to a faster disbursement of the grants.



Ladies and Gentlemen,

However, there are some important uncertainties regarding the future funding of the Chambers of Commerce. You are not the only ones that are facing such challenges, it suffices to look at the financing of the Foreign Trade Agency, or the funding of the Princely economic missions. I cannot give you any assurances about the outcome, which is not within my political competences. However, I would like to make some remarks:


Within my power, I will always strive to ensure that another form of financing will not be detrimental to the effectiveness of the Chambers of Commerce, which are a crucial part of our economy and foreign trade.


You also bear a part of the solution. The Chambers of Commerce have to think outside the box, by ensuring your existence even without subsidies, or at least by reducing your dependence on them. This can be done through organizing events, sponsoring, membership fees, and so on. There are numerous successful examples that need to be shared among you, during events as this one.


The Government must preserve an important support for starting Chambers through incentives. And to all Chambers, for example through the help of Embassies by providing accommodation for events, and so on.


And my final remark is maybe the most important one. It is a concept, or an attitude that I have developed and promoted in the field of defence and security within the European Union and NATO: the concept of Pooling & Sharing.


This concept is also applicable to your way of operation: avoid duplicities and work closely together, as you are aiming for the same goal. Not only between the various Chambers of Commerce in a particular country, but also between Chambers that have a seat in Brussels and a seat in the country. The aim should be to develop synergies for cooperation when there are several chambers of Commerce active in one country, for example in South Africa, where we have a Chamber in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town.





Ladies and Gentlemen,

After the recent and very successful economic mission to Turkey and Azerbaijan, De Standaard headlined “De Crem, salesman of the NV Belgium”. A title that is coinciding with the reality. This is exactly what connects us, we want the best for this country, we are all salesmen of NV Belgium. The increasingly globalized world is not interested in the internal politics of this country, it is up to us to ensure that Belgium remains a strong brand that stands for reliability, innovation, know-how, and experience. Thank you all for the time and energy that you put into this goal, every day again.


- - - The spoken word alone prevails - - -




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