From 17 to 22 November, Princess Astrid, representing the King, will lead a Belgian economic mission to China. With 632 participants, it will be the largest economic mission ever. The wide range of registered companies and the extensive programme reflect the great interest of our companies, universities and research centres in the opportunities that China has to offer. In addition to the promotion of exports and investments, intercultural and political relations between our two countries will also be central to the princely mission.
I. Official Delegation
Princess Astrid will be accompanied by the following ministerial delegation:
Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Minister for Defence
Pieter De Crem, Minister of the Interior, Security and Foreign Trade
Jan Jambon, Minister-President of the Flemish Government and Minister of Foreign Policy, Culture and ICT
Willy Borsus, Deputy Prime Minister of the Walloon Government and Minister of Economy, Foreign Trade, Research & Development and Agriculture.
Pascal Smet, Secretary of State for the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for Urban Development, European and International Relations and External Trade.
The princely missions are organised jointly by the three regional agencies responsible for promoting trade relations and investment (Flanders Investment & Trade, Agence Wallonne A� l’Exportation, Brussels Invest & Export/hub.brussels), the Foreign Trade Agency and the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.
III. General framework
Over the last 40 years, China’s share of the world economy has increased from 1.5% to more than 15%, partly thanks to the practice of “reform and opening up” applied by DENG Xiaoping. For a number of sectors it is necessary to be present in China in order to be a (real) global player.
Despite the slowdown in growth (official figures just above 6%, coming from more than 10% in the first decade of this century), China is on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy by 2030. Today, China’s economy is in full transformation from an industry based on low wages and mass production to an economy that delivers high quality products, driven by technology and innovation. The focus of the Chinese economy is also gradually shifting from exports to domestic consumption.
China works with major master plans. There is the “Made in China 2025” programme, an industrial programme with the 10 sectors in which China wants to achieve a global role for its companies – or even make them world leaders. These include self-driving vehicles, information technology (5G), robotics, aerospace and the pharmaceutical industry. The “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) is also becoming increasingly global because of infrastructure projects, digital networks and pipelines in countries between Asia and Europe, but also increasingly in Africa.
Belgium is responding to this in a pragmatic way, with advantages in terms of logistics (port/airports that can form a gateway for Chinese products to the European market) and attention to the sustainability of the projects and respect for international standards. That is why Belgium sets itself up as the Gateway to Europe for Chinese investors. In this framework, a workshop on gender equality at work has been organized in collaboration with the ILO.
China’s industrial policy truly focuses on innovation and new technologies. This strengthens the competition with our companies, which face increasingly innovative and disruptive Chinese competitors.
This very dynamic industrial policy has its drawbacks (IPR protection, subsidy policy, whether or not forced technology transfers, problem of reciprocity in terms of market access), but also offers enormous opportunities for Belgian companies. The size of the economic mission – with 632 participants the largest ever – shows the interest of Belgian companies in China, the relevance of the country for the development of our companies and their confidence in the further growth of the Chinese economy.
China’s economic growth has brought with it several societal challenges: pollution (soil, air, surface water) with an impact on health and food quality. There are opportunities here for Belgian companies in the cleantech and food sectors – both well represented among the participants to the mission – as well as for Belgian research institutes. With 1.4 billion consumers, China is a very attractive growth market for high-quality Belgian food and drink.
The Belgian cleantech companies and research institutes can be a reliable partner to meet the various environmental challenges, such as waste processing, water purification,… and energy-efficient construction projects, using the new chancellery in Beijing as a sustainable example.
The development of a health system and health industry are also at the top of the Chinese political agenda (“Healthy China 2030”), which in turn offers opportunities for Belgian pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies with special expertise in vaccines, medical devices, drug development, hospital management, …
IV. Economic links – Strong trading partners
In 2018, the total value of Belgian product exports to China amounted to 7 billion. The total value of Belgian product imports from China amounted to 15 billion. This economic mission therefore takes place against the backdrop of a structural negative trade balance with China and it is therefore important for our Belgian companies to be able to gain a foothold in the growing Chinese consumer market. Responding to sectors for which there is clear Chinese demand (cleantech, pharmaceuticals, food, etc.) should create more win-win situations and reduce the trade deficit. For example, Belgium will try to take meaningful steps at a technical and political level to reopen the access of Belgian agricultural products – pork in particular – to the Chinese market.
This economic mission takes place in a clouded international climate: crisis of the multilateral trade system, the race for technology and tariff wars between the world’s largest economies: the US and China. Belgium wants to urge China, as the second largest economy in the world, to take its responsibility for safeguarding and modernising the WTO. In order to grow further, international trade needs a rules-based multilateral system. China’s place in the world also necessitates some structural changes, for example with regard to the role of state-owned companies and industrial subsidies. China has also increasingly become an ever more important partner on climate and environmental matters. For Belgian companies, this opens up opportunities for collaboration. Commerce and global challenges are issues that are raised both bilaterally and at EU level.
Belgium attaches great importance to strengthening relations between the EU and China and wants to take on our traditional “bridge” function to this end. Belgium will also ensure in Beijing that the important negotiations on an investment agreement between the EU and China, which have been in progress for more than 5 years, lead to an ambitious result with better market access for companies and more legal certainty.
V. Sporting, cultural and personal exchanges
For some years now, China has been developing a Silk Road Diplomacy, focusing not only on the roll-out of infrastructure and digital networks, but also on strengthening student or journalist exchanges, and promoting tourism.
The mission therefore offers the opportunity to capitalize on the exponential growth of Chinese tourism and to promote Belgium as a tourist destination and to respond to the exponential growth of Chinese tourism. Belgium will urge China to facilitate visas for students (trainees) and young entrepreneurs, to allow them to gain a better perspective on China’s innovations. There is currently no reciprocity between Belgium and China in this respect.
The winter Olympics in Beijing and the Asian Games in Hangzhou, both of which will take place in 2022, will of course focus on the sporting and innovative know-how of Belgian companies for the organisation of such major sporting events. Football, equestrian and pigeon sports offer common ground for further cooperation.
There will also be time for some intercultural contacts with a visit to an exhibition of Belgian contemporary art and of course also during the Belgian official receptions in Beijing and Shanghai.
Source: Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs