Belgium Excellence
Photo Credit To AWEX – WBI – CGT – WBT 2015

Belgium Excellence

The new Liège-Guillemins TGV railway Station by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in 2013, Belgium.

[INTERVIEW]

H.E. Mr. Gunther Sleeuwagen
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belgium to Japan.


H.E. Mr. Gunther Sleeuwagen, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belgium to Japan.
H.E. Mr. Gunther Sleeuwagen.

—On May 13 2015 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a summit meeting with Mr. Charles Michel, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Belgium, one of the topic discussed during that meeting was regarding the Japan-EU EPA, could you please tell us more about the status of this agreement?

The negotiations are progressing. Since the Japanese side has indicated that they wanted to conclude an agreement by the end of 2015, the pace of the negotiations might speed up in the coming months, but nobody will go hastily. The EU aims for an ambitious agreement, and Belgium is very much in favor of a strong economic partnership with Japan. During the summit meeting between Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Michel last May, Prime Minister Michel once again underlined that Belgium would be in favor of an early conclusion of an ambitious and balanced FTA. Our companies in Belgium will certainly benefit from such agreement, so they are all looking forward to the renewed impetus that the Japan-EU EPA could give to bilateral trade. The Japan-EU EPA should help settle some technical and non-tariff obstacles. It should be a win-win situation for both economic blocs.

—During this meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seizes the opportunity to mention the participation of young Japanese people to the French Language World Forum 2015, held in Liege last July. It showed the very active role that Belgium is playing among the IOF (International organization of the Francophonie), can you tell us more?

What makes the IOF unique is equality and a strong respect among the members which allows a real dialogue between the countries.

As you know, the IOF has two dimensions. It is a cultural organization devoted to nurturing French-language culture, and more generally cultural and linguistic diversity. At the same time, it is also a political organization devoted to defending values shared by its members, namely peace, democracy and human rights. Its aim is to foster peace and understanding through cultural and educational exchange and cooperation for sustainable development. So it is far more than just a group of French-speaking countries, as it now has 54 members, 23 observers and 3 associates, spread over all continents. What makes the IOF unique is equality and a strong respect among the members which allows a real dialogue between the countries.

In 1970, Belgium was a founding member, of the body that has evolved today into the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF). Due to its federal structure, since 2005, Belgium has two seats in this international organization: one for the federal government, and one for the French Community of Belgium, the federated entity representing the French-speaking part of the country. Together they participate actively in all activities of the Francophonie. Last summer, in particular, the Belgian city of Liège hosted the second French Language World Forum, a large youth gathering focused on exchange through the French language.

Aeronautics is a flagship sector of Belgian manufacturing. / Credits: AWEX – WBI – CGT – WBT 2015.
Aeronautics is a flagship sector of Belgian manufacturing. / Credits: AWEX – WBI – CGT – WBT 2015.

In Japan, the Francophonie is present in several ways. TV5Monde, the international French-language TV channel, is available for subscription. The embassies of the members of the IOF have established together a Council for the promotion of La Francophonie in Japan. Every year they celebrate La Francophonie together in a festival that takes place around March 20 in Tokyo and Kyoto. Recently there has been an increasing interest in Japan for more communication in other languages than English, and in particular in French, in part due to the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. This is why Prime Minister Abe agreed with Prime Minister Michel to support the participation of the delegation of Japanese youth to the Forum in Liège last summer. Their presence was a wonderful way to show other participants in the Forum, from all over the world, that the French language has also lovers in Japan!

—Last May, Michèle Sioen, president of the FEB met with H.E. the Ambassador of Japan to Belgium Mr.Mitsuo Sakaba to strengthen the economic partnerships and increase foreign investments between the two countries. What are the main challenges to overcome to deepen those business opportunities?

The challenges are manifold. Both Belgium and Japan are mature economies, where production costs are high, so investors are rather interested in cutting-edge technologies, or industries such as life sciences where knowledge is paramount. In Japan, Belgium is known for its high quality food products such as beer and chocolate but they actually represent only a small amount of our trade volume with Japan.

Belgium and Japan share a strong belief in economic growth, as well as in a strong welfare system for their citizens. Our economies are interlinked.

The business environment in Belgium for the bio-industry is excellent: the workforce is multilingual and qualified, the government has many incentives for R&D, universities and hospitals are top-notch. Other key sectors for us are nanotechnology and applied research, in which we are pleased to see more and more collaboration and partnerships opportunities developing over the past few years. Although they are of a very different scale, Japanese businesses can learn from Belgian companies how to internationalize.

Belgium and Japan share a strong belief in economic growth, as well as in a strong welfare system for their citizens. Our economies are interlinked.

Meeting of Prime Minister, Mr. Charles Michel, and Minister of Economy, Mr. Kris Peeters with the President of Nippon Shokubai, Mr. Masanori Ikeda.
Meeting of Prime Minister, Mr. Charles Michel, and Minister of Economy, Mr. Kris Peeters with the President of Nippon Shokubai, Mr. Masanori Ikeda.

That is why both countries are keen to welcome foreign investments, as they contribute to economic growth. In 2015, Belgium organized an investment seminar in Tokyo, where Prime Minister Michel and Vice Prime Minister Peeters gave the key-note speech. In 2016, Prime Minister Abe will promote Japan as a destination country for investments in Brussels, home city of the key European Union institutions.

—In 2016, Belgium and Japan will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic and friendship relations in the year 1866. How is Belgium going to celebrate this important event?

Belgium was only the 9th country to sign a treaty with Japan after it opened up to the world in the mid-nineteenth century. This was even before the Meiji revolution, and it was quite an achievement for the small and young Belgium. Only 36 years independent and trying to take part in the first wave of globalization of that period. Since then, except for the short and sad parenthesis of World War II, Belgium and Japan have maintained excellent relations, bolstered also by the personal relations between the two reigning families. Belgium was on the itinerary of the first visit abroad of a member of the Imperial family, the future Showa Emperor, in 1921, and again of his first tour abroad as Emperor in 1971; the contacts between them have been numerous and always very warm.

The AGC (Asahi Glass Corporation) plant in Roux, Belgium. / Credits: AWEX – WBI – CGT – WBT 2015.
The AGC (Asahi Glass Corporation) plant in Roux, Belgium. / Credits: AWEX – WBI – CGT – WBT 2015.

Next year, we will therefore celebrate a century and a half of friendship between Belgium and Japan. The program is still being finalized, but I can already say that the celebrations will involve some high-level visits on both sides, as well as a number of cultural events throughout the year in both countries. Watch for the logo of the 150th anniversary in 2016!


Related posts

Leave a Reply

The store is currently undergoing maintenance — no orders shall be fulfilled. Dismiss