(Texte uniquement disponible en anglais)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A warm welcome to this seminar about investment opportunities and conditions in Belgium. There are many good reasons why the title of this seminar is ?Think Europe, Act from Belgium?. I will come to those in a moment. But I am afraid we are asking a lot from you at this early hour: at eight o?clock in the morning we want you to think about Europe and to act on a country many of you are unfamiliar with! And yet I am convinced that this is a very rewarding exercise because our country does have quite a lot of hidden assets we want you to discover.
First of all, as the real estate consultants would say : location, location, location. Why has Belgium been a trading nation for centuries? Well, because we ourselves are pretty shrewd traders, but also because our country is right on the crossroads of Europe?s main trading routes, from Scandinavia to France and from the Central European heartland to Britain. Location is important also because we have the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands as our immediate neighbours. By road and rail you can reach Europe?s main business and trading centres in a few hours. Our ports give easy access to the European hinterland and our logistics companies are famous for their speed of delivery and their productivity. And just ask the Japanese or the Chinese about our tourist attractions, or the Germans or Italians about the quality of life in Belgium. My mother is Italian so I know what I am talking about.
But there is more than location. The presence in Belgium of key international decision making centres, of NATO and the EU in particular, attracts a lot of interest. Thousands of lobbyists have established offices and quite often European headquarters in Belgium. Lawyers, accountants, sector associations, consultants and think tanks, all have substantial operations in Brussels. Major global corporations, Toyota for instance, have their European administrative and research headquarters in our country. Brussels is second only to Washington in terms of the number of accredited media. And proximity to the EU also gives you first-hand access to global decision makers in agriculture, world trade, market regulation or environmental issues, and to 27 countries with over 500 million customers.
A third Belgian asset is our workforce. In this respect, Belgium and Canada are very similar. Multilingual, productive, highly skilled, flexible: our workers are the pride of our country. Our per capita productivity is among the highest in the world and our schools and higher education institutes score high in international rankings. Belgians speaking four or more languages fluently, with skills of adapting to almost any business environment, are increasingly sought after by multinational companies.
And last but not least, there is research and technology. I am really proud of what my country is achieving in the area of innovation. What makes Belgium different from many other countries, is the fact that most of the innovative drive comes from young scientists who have created very small companies spun off from their university. Often located right next to the campus, they attract eager engineers, technical and management staff with a global outlook and an amazing will to succeed. Two examples: Metris has just been voted Enterprise of the Year in Flanders. Metris designs and produces inspection systems for the automotive and aerospace sectors, offering world-class metrology solutions for design and manufacturing. Barely 10 years old, it has production centres and offices in the UK, the US, China, Russia, India and Bulgaria; in Canada they took over Hymarc in 2003.
Another example : Nanocyl is a spin-off from Namur and Liège Universities. It was created in 2002 to produce carbon nanotubes which are used in composite materials, microelectronics and biotechnology. Based in Wallonia, they are world leaders in leading-edge nanotechnology applications and just a year ago they became a semi-industrial company with investments in the USA and clients all over the world.
So this morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are focusing on why it pays to invest in Belgium. The following speakers will tell you much more about our assets and about fiscal and other incentives offered by our authorities and by the financial sector. And these are important considerations for you, we?re well aware of that. But as you leave this seminar later on, please keep in mind these four keywords : location, Europe, workforce, innovation. Look at them closely, compare them from every angle : you?ll find that it pays to act from Belgium to cover Europe and to face the world.
Thank you, and I wish you a very fruitful meeting.