Speech – United Shipping Meeting

On behalf of the Flemish Government, I am very pleased to be here with you today, wishing you a very warm welcome at the city of Antwerp. Allow me to talk to you briefly about the vast array of assets Belgium has to offer.

Belgium and more specifically Flanders, the northern Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, provides businesses from around the world with all the advantages of a knowledge-based economy in a unique central location.

Sixty per cent of European Union purchasing power and markets lie within a radius of just 300 miles and, in addition, the region offers a base close to Brussels –  capital of Belgium, capital of the European Union and the center of European decision-making.

Our highly developed transport and logistics infrastructure boasts 3 major ports (Antwerp, Ghent and Zeebrugge), combined with the highest density of freeways and railroads in Europe,  a vast network of inland waterways and a leading hub airport in Brussels.

The US real estate consultancy firm Colliers has released its latest study on the attractiveness of European cities for logistics activities, and Belgian cities dominate the charts. Most notably, Antwerp ranked first in terms of location for distribution, cementing its reputation as the gateway to Europe. The cities of Brussels and Liège also ranked in the top 10, at 4th and 10th place respectively.

The study took multiple factors into consideration including infrastructure, market access, operational costs, specific know-how, labor market capacity and the overall business environment. If low operating costs and developing infrastructure are expected to be a source of growth for the Eastern European cities, Antwerp’s many assets were more than enough to push it to the top of the ranking.

Indeed, a truck departing from Antwerp can reach 143 million people in nine hours and 60% of European purchasing power is located within a 500 km radius around Antwerp. The Port of Antwerp’s location inland also provides some of the fastest and cheapest connections to the hinterlands, and its long history as an international trade hub also confers on it multiple benefits.

Even when focusing on operational costs as opposed to distribution possibilities, Antwerp was the highest ranking Western European city, effectively making it the highest-ranked Western European location for both manufacturing and distribution.

Another remarkable trend is that Belgium posts the fastest growth on AT Kearney’s Global Retail E-Commerce Index 2015. The country is ranked 9th, outperforming the Netherlands.

The Global Retail E-Commerce Index is an annual ranking of the e-commerce growth potential in 30 countries. This year, Belgium rose 15 places, entering the top 10 at number 9. The top 3 e-commerce countries are the US, China and the UK. Neighboring country the Netherlands ranks 13th.

In the accompanying report, AT Kearney (US) praises Belgium’s infrastructure and the growing number of online buyers: “Belgium is small, but its market is ripe with potential. Its infrastructure is solid, its connected consumer base is shopping online and its competitive landscape is fragmented. Strong e-commerce growth is expected – as much as 25 per cent per year through 2020 – led, in particular, by the apparel, food and electronics sectors.”

Not only are we centrally located in Europe, geographically speaking Belgium is at the heart of Europe’s decision making: Brussels plays host to the European Union, NATO, more than 120 international governmental organizations and approximately 1,400 NGOs. With 159 embassies and 2,500 diplomats, Brussels ranks second in the world in terms of diplomatic representations. But, even more important is how decisive a role Belgium plays in Europe. It is where decisions are made at EU level on trade, on standards and regulations in nearly all industrial sectors. These decisions affect every company which aims to do business in the EU. Whoever aims to understand and influence these decisions needs to be in Belgium.

Belgium’s credentials also received a shining endorsement in a recent KOF Index of Globalization survey, which measures the economic, social and political dimensions of globalization.

Belgium keeps its position as the most “globalized” country in the world, ahead of Ireland and the Netherlands.

We are quite literally at the crossroads of Northern and Southern Europe. Belgium is a very heterogeneous society, maintaining strong relations with all of our neighbors. All this makes Belgium a prime platform for foreign companies seeking to test their products.

Common wisdom has it that if you can appeal to the Belgian consumers, you are likely to succeed in the Northern European markets such as Germany and Sweden. If your products sell well in French-speaking Wallonia, then you will most likely also prosper in Southern Europe

(France, Spain, Italy) as well. By then, you and your company are no doubt on your way to a booming success in Europe – thanks to setting up your business throughout Belgium.

Belgium prides itself on a highly productive, flexible, eager-to-learn and multilingual workforce. Belgium tops the leaderboard where overall productivity (in GDP per person employed) is concerned.

All this can be mainly attributed to a superb education system. Our universities enjoy an international reputation in a wide range of scientific research fields. They have forged partnerships with numerous companies in all kinds of industries to supply graduates with a strong package of applied skills.

Ladies and gentlemen, you see that a presence in Belgium implies a presence at the centre of action of the European industry, in a favorable business climate for companies with suppliers and competence centers focusing on leading-edge technologies and a supportive government.

I can assure you that Belgium welcomes foreign businesses to its shores and that if you should have any inquiries please come and see us. We are there for you. I wish you all a very nice and exciting evening.

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