Economic mission to the United States: the Belgian delegation back home

No less than 541 entrepreneurs and business leaders, academic representatives and sectoral federations took part in this mission to the country of Uncle Sam, the second in importance after China in November 2019 and the largest ever organized across the Atlantic. .

It was orchestrated by the Agency for Foreign Trade, the FPS Foreign Affairs and the regional foreign trade agencies (Awex for Wallonia, hub.brussels for the capital and FIT for Flanders). At its head, Princess Astrid has participated in many activities, in sectors as varied as life sciences, renewable energies, gastronomy and even video games. She was accompanied by Federal Minister David Clarinval, in charge of Foreign Trade – replacing Sophie Wilmès, on leave from her post of Foreign Affairs –, Walloon Minister for the Economy and Foreign Trade Willy Borsus, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon and the Brussels State Secretary for Foreign Trade Pascal Smet.

All underlined the quality of the relations between the various authorities present, “which is not always obvious in politics” remarked Pascal Smet on Saturday during an interview with journalists. The four ministers and secretary of state also took advantage of this press briefing to thank Princess Astrid, for whom it was the 17th economic mission, for her “sincere and profound” investment, in the words of Mr. Clarinval.

First stopover of this journey in America, Atlanta offered great opportunities to the largest official delegation received since the 1996 Olympic Games. The southeastern American state welcomes around sixty Belgian companies, the highest concentration from the country. Georgia’s total trade with Belgium was $3.2 billion in 2021, a 29% growth from 2020. Total trade with Belgium has grown 157% since 2017, figures show. Foreign Affairs.

Among these well-established companies, the biopharmaceutical group UCB – which employs nearly 2,000 people in the United States at its sites in Atlanta, Cambridge in Massachusetts and North Carolina – has opened new offices in Smyrna, very close to the capital of Georgia, while Solvay inaugurated a brand new innovation laboratory in Alpharetta.

The birthplace of Martin Luther King was also an opportunity for Belgian Foreign Affairs to address the issue of human rights, as is customary in this kind of mission. This time, diversity, equity and inclusion were the subject of a round table, after the emergence in the United States of major anti-racist demonstrations linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. Casablanca-born Solvay CEO Ilham Kadri, raised by an illiterate mother and grandmother, stressed the importance of education in a society that initially offered her only “two exits in life: move from the parental home to the matrimonial home, or the grave”. “I hadn’t expected to find myself at the head of a company, but I had the ambition to progress. If your dreams don’t scare you, it’s because they aren’t big enough, ”she then told the audience who came to be inspired by female models in entrepreneurship.

The Belgian delegation left the cradle of civil rights on Tuesday to land in New York, like the thirty or so Walloon families four centuries ago who gave their name to Wallabout Bay, in Brooklyn, where they settled on their arrival in the new World. A Big Apple that businessmen and women have eaten to their heart’s content. On the menu, gastronomy in particular, with big fish like AB InBev (whose Stella sales have increased by 10% in three years in an American market of 325 million people) and smaller ones like the abbey brewery of Val-Dieu, who signed half a dozen contracts throughout the mission. The United States remains by far the first distant export destination for the Belgian food industry, representing a turnover of 700 million euros, notes the sectoral federation Fevia. Exports of Belgian food and drink products to the “States” have thus increased from 459 million euros in 2014 to 764 million in 2019, an increase of 66% in five years.

Brussels also stood out among New York skyscrapers for its inspiring economic policy to build a greener and more resilient city in the face of climate change. After the capital, the Princess then went to the United Nations to support the port of Antwerp and Liège Airport, which offer a common Belgian showcase for logistical support for the humanitarian programs of Unicef, the Food Program (WFP) or the Covax system, set up at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to try to guarantee equitable access to vaccines around the world. If the humanitarian flows of the UN “represent only 1%” of the activities of the Liège airport, “that gives meaning to our profession, motivates the troops… and constitutes a prestigious tool in terms of image”, notes the CEO Laurent Jossart.

Last stage of this stay at a run: the progressive Boston. Innovative solutions and a creative environment form the hallmark of the city. The Belgian delegation focused on the academic aspect of the mission and the relations between prestigious local universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard. KU Leuven professor and renowned scientist Peter Carmeliet was thus honored on Friday by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, which recently admitted him to its circle.

For her part, Princess Astrid spoke with the Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, and the mayor of the city, Michelle Wu. She also found the former at Greentown Labs, one of the largest technology incubators in America. North. The Belgian company DEME, which specializes in offshore wind power, exchanged views with its American counterpart Vinyard Wind.

While the Celtics faced the San Francisco Warriors at home in a top basketball game and an electric (but disappointed) atmosphere in the streets, the last day of Belgian activities was dedicated to life sciences, with in particular the visit of the proton therapy center developed with the neo-Luvanist IBA. Friday also provided its harvest of contracts, including a non-exclusive licensing agreement between the Mons group I-care, which offers solutions in the field of industrial equipment health, and MIT for a group of patents from the prestigious institute . The Liège biotechnology company Kaneka Eurogentec has for its part joined the manufacturing consortium set up by the pharmaceutical group Inovio for the production of INO-4800, one of the DNA vaccine candidates against Covid-19.

No doubt the American harvest was good.

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