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Investment opportunities abound in Belgium

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Belgium, - Flanders in particular - is a logistics hub and entry point for the European market.

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The Atomium, an iron atom structure which was displayed during the 1958 World Expo in Brussels.

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The airport of Liège is one of Europe's biggest cargo airports, with a direct UPS (TNT) link between Singapore and the Liege airport.

The Kingdom of Belgium is a federal and constitutional monarchy divided into three regions that take care of, among other tasks, economic development policy.  Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern region, Wallonia is the French-speaking southern region, and the Brussels Capital Region is bilingual in both French and Dutch. Flanders Investment & Trade is the Flemish government agency which promotes sustainable international business relations between Flemish companies and firms in over 180 countries. AWEX is the name of the Wallonia agency, while Hub Brussels represents the Brussels Capital Region. The three agencies have their own representative based in Singapore. Their main task is to support Belgian companies to export to Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, and attract investments and partnerships from Singapore or neighbouring countries into Belgium. Each of the three regions has some strong sectors that are illustrated below:


FLANDERS

Petrochemical sector

FLANDERS is currently Europe's leading petrochemical hub. With its know-how, infrastructure, and expertise, the Flanders region is home to the second largest petrochemical cluster in the world.

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The Port of Antwerp is crucial for the further development of the petrochemical hub. The main advantage of Antwerp's chemical cluster is an extremely high level of integration in the value chain combined with a diversification of petrochemical products and applications.

The Port of Antwerp recently announced two new investment projects. Firstly, INEOS - a multinational chemicals company headquartered in London - will invest three billion euros (S$4.6 billion) for the building of a world-scale propane dehydrogenisation (PDH) unit and the first ethane gas cracker in Europe on the existing INEOS production site in Lillo, in the Antwerp Port area.

These will convert propane into propylene and ethylene respectively. Since propylene and ethylene are the starting points for different chemical products, the production will enhance further investment in the chemical sector of the region.

This project will be the largest investment in the European chemical sector in 20 years.

Secondly, Borealis will build a one billion euro PDH plant at the existing Borealis production site in Kallo, also in the Antwerp port area. The target is estimated at around one million tonnes of propylene a year. The plant is expected to open in 2022 and will create around 100 jobs.

Borealis will also contribute to the chemical sector with their production of propylene.

The Wallonia region also has a chemical cluster in Feluy, in the south of Brussels. It hosts the operations of BASF, a refinery of French multinational integrated oil and gas company Total. This refinery is also the most important research and development centre for Total's production of chemicals and new polymers.

Logistics sector

Belgium - Flanders in particular - is a logistics hub and entry point for the European market. With more than 60 per cent of the European purchasing power within a 400km perimeter, Belgium's central location and its well-developed infrastructure of railways, roads and waterways make it a natural location for distribution and warehousing activities.

Furthermore, Flanders has four international seaports (Antwerp, Zeebrugge, Ghent and Ostend), one international airport (Zaventem-Brussels) and three regional airports (Antwerp, Kortrijk-Wevelgem and Ostend-Bruges), which are all easily connected to the rest of the world.

In the seaport of Antwerp, PSA Antwerp is one of the two biggest container terminal operators. PSA Antwerp is the largest investment, outside of Singapore, of Singapore-based PSA International.

PSA Antwerp operates three container terminals. Over 80 per cent of all containers coming into Antwerp pass through one of these terminals.

The recently established joint-venture, SEA-MOL NV, of the Ghent-based port group SEA-Invest and the Singapore based Japanese company MOL Chemical Tankers, will construct and operate a new tank terminal  located in the Port of Antwerp.

With a budget of 400 million euros, the so-called Sea-Tank Terminal will become one of the largest storage tank operators in Western Europe with a volume up to 500,000 cubic metres of storage.

SEA-MOL NV aims to have the first phase of the terminal operational by the middle of 2021 with a direct long-term employment for up to 100 people.

Another interesting connection between Singapore and Flanders is that Singapore Airlines has a cargo division located in Brussels Airport. There are also direct flights from Singapore to Brussels and different direct shipping lines from Singapore to Antwerp.

Cleantech and IT sectors

Countering climate change requires the development of innovative technology as well as a sustained global commitment to bring about a clean energy economy.

That is why Flanders has been making a number of efforts in the development of new technologies for sustainable energy, be it a government-driven commitment, having innovative energy companies, and pioneering research centres and knowledge platforms. The region of Flanders offers various benefits to cleantech businesses in the domains of wind, solar, bio and other green resources.

One recent project is the construction of the world's biggest offshore wind turbines along the coast of Flanders. A total of 700 million euros has been collected for this project, called Northwester 2.

Construction began in May 2019, and the wind firm should be operational by the end of the year. It will have a production capacity equal to the energy use of more than 220,000 families.

Regarding the IT sector, Brussels is one of Europe's most prominent IT hubs and among the continent's high value-added service regions. It owes its position to the strong concentration of American and European IT multinationals in Brussels and Flanders, especially in the fields of integration and business process outsourcing.

Recently, Geens.com, a Flanders-based non-profit membership organisation that provides information technology services, is partnering with NEM Foundation, a blockchain specialist from Singapore. The goal of the partnership is to co-develop an identification system that can help digitalise professions such as law and medicine.

  • This article was written by Luc Fabry, the Trade and Investment Counsellor of Flanders Investment & Trade. He can be contacted at luc.fabry@fitagency.com and +65 96518119.

BRUSSELS

BELGIUM is located at the crossroads of three major European cultures, Germanic, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon. The Belgian DNA rests on multilingualism and multiculturalism within an open and tolerant environment.

Located at the heart of Europe, Brussels is one of the most accessible capitals in the continent. Thanks to its dense and outstanding transportation infrastructure, Belgium offers fast connections all over Europe by air, sea or land. Travelling to major commercial and industrial centres such as Paris, London, Amsterdam or Frankfurt - all located in a 300 km radius from Brussels - takes less than two hours by air or high-speed train.

Brussels is a city of one million inhabitants with a vast array of cultures, styles and nationalities, and a long tradition of hospitality and tolerance. It is large enough to be cosmopolitan yet small enough to offer all the advantages of a modern city. The city has good communications infrastructure, a quality of life envied by many, and a low-cost of living. The workforce is well-educated, productive and multilingual. The city is located at the heart of an open market of 500 million people. Thanks to these geographic and economic advantages, together with an outstanding quality of life, Brussels has convinced many overseas investors, from SMEs to multinationals, to establish their headquarters here. The Brussels Capital Region accounts for nearly 9 per cent of all exports from Belgium, with the service industries adding another 9 per cent.

Some of the major companies include Volkswagen manufacturing plant, Toyota Motor and DaimlerChrysler. The foremost areas of production are electronics, chemicals, printing, publishing, clothing, telecommunications, aircraft construction, and the food industry.

Belgium is home to a unique concentration of decision-makers who shape the lives of hundreds of millions of people in Europe and around the world.

Brussels hosts the most important European institutions, NATO, professional federations, corporate headquarters and civil society organisations. It is home to 181 diplomatic missions, representative offices of some 200 regions and cities, 1,750 non-governmental organisations, 20,000 lobbyists, and the world's largest press corps with 1,200 accredited journalists.

Brussels is often dubbed the capital of standards for Europe, setting standards and establishing safeguards for the single biggest market in the world.

As a result, Brussels is the second biggest concentration of those seeking to affect legislation, after Washington, DC in the US.

There are about 50,000 businesses operating in and from Brussels, of which around 2,200 are foreign based. This number is constantly increasing and is a testament to the growing importance of Brussels in the European subcontinent. Hosting the headquarters of the European Union, there has been a significant increase in job opportunities as well as foreigners settling in the capital. For expatriates, the city is a blessing in terms of taxes, as every penny spent out of the city is tax-deductible.

Belgium offers an exceptionally high standard of living for expats and their families with first-class healthcare, high-quality housing at affordable prices, an excellent education system with many international schools, and world class gastronomy. In fact, Belgian douceur de vivre almost makes you forget about the weather!

This international presence, combined with Belgium's first-rate location and accessibility at the heart of Europe, make it the leading European conference destination. Brussels holds over 1,000 business conferences annually, making it Europe's fourth most popular conference city. It is rated as the world's seventh most important financial centre.

In terms of innovation, more than 14,000 startups employing more than 78,000 people have been created in Brussels over the years. The ecosystem is rich with more than 85 startup-focused initiatives, including incubators, accelerators, coaching and investment activities.

About 19 per cent of Brussels startup founders were raised in a foreign country. The profiles of the entrepreneurs behind the Brussels startups are diverse, with 12.5 per cent and 19 per cent of the Brussels tech startups led by woman and foreigners respectively. 

If a specific field of expertise might be highlighted in the Brussels economic landscape, it is the eco-build and environmentally friendly construction sector, where Brussels companies excel in providing energy-efficient guidance. We are very strong in terms of building energy performance, and Brussels has already achieved strong recognition for its efforts in this field. Brussels has been building according to the "passive building standards" for almost ten years. This is unprecedented in Europe, and even the rest of the world.

Delegations from New York, Seattle and Canada are following the example set by Brussels. There is a wealth of experience that exists in Brussels, which foreign companies can tap on when developing projects.

The PEB Building Energy Performance Certificate, launched in Brussels in 2008, represents a significant tool for achieving CO2 reduction targets, as energy consumption by buildings accounts for 70 per cent of overall usage. In 2016, the government of Brussels also launched the Regional Circular Economy Programme, which aims to position Brussels as an innovative region of Europe, at the forefront of supporting circular economy development.

  • This article was written by Rudi Mertens, a Trade and Investment Counsellor. He can be contacted at singapore@hub.brussels and +65 85110020.

WALLONIA

Wallonia is a knowledge-based region where engineering and research are deeply rooted in all key sectors of the economy since the region became the second most industrialised area in the world just after the UK back in the 18th century.

Life sciences

For decades, Singapore has been host to some of Belgium's most innovative large players such as Solvay and GSK Vaccines but few people know that these giants were born in Wallonia.

Wallonia shows exceptional results in terms of innovation and industrial development, especially in the field of biopharmaceuticals, as it provides 54 per cent of the jobs newly created and represents 25 per cent of the region's exports.

Wallonia's life sciences cluster focuses on technological themes where the region has a critical mass of global players:

  • Bio-pharmacy with the development of therapeutics and prophylactic agents, including vaccines, drug R&D and clinical trials;
  • Cell therapy;
  • Medical device & in-vitro diagnostics;
  • Biomanufacturing including the genetic bioengineering of organisms and the design of production processes;
  • Radiation applied to health.

Every year, six million tests are made with radioisotopes produced by the IRE Institute based in Wallonia. A large proton therapy equipment made in Wallonia is currently being used in Singapore.

For example, when entrepreneurs and scientists want to create a company in the radio-pharmaceutical sector with the intent to develop drugs and treatments of diseases like cancer, they come to Wallonia because the life span of nuclear elements produced is very short. Therefore, one needs to be as close to the production centres as possible.

Wallonia also boasts the highest number of doctors that specialise in nuclear medicine and are very experienced with all the logistics specific to handling nuclear elements.

It's worth noting that Flanders also has a noteworthy biopharmaceutical cluster. Together, the two regions offer:

The largest number of medicines in development in the world per capita; The highest number of phase 1 clinical trials in Europe per capita; The highest number of phases 1 to 3 clinical trials per capita; The highest concentration of life science employees in the world in absolute figures; and the seventh-largest investor in the world in biopharmaceutical R&D.

Belgium is considered the "Pharma valley of Europe" and the "Pharma logistics gateway to Europe and the world".

Aerospace and aeronautics

Aerospace is big in Wallonia. The sector's development started decades ago with the expertise gained in the metal-working industry and developed with a network of specialist sub-contractors such as precision mechanics and armament.

Belgium was also one of the first nations to engage in space policy. With players such as SABCA, FN Moteurs and Alcatel Belgium, the kingdom was involved with the two organisations preceding the European Space Agency and played a major role in its creation, which was decided during a European Ministerial Space Conference in Brussels in 1973.

Wallonia has been host to the ESA centre in Redu since 1968. This site is part of ESA's ground station infrastructure, and its primary task is to control orbiting satellites.

Redu is also the main processing centre for data in the field of "space weather", with a focus on the influence of the sun on the Earth.

In 2014, new responsibilities were given to the site in the field of cybersecurity and education. It opened a laboratory for e-robotics and it has been hosting the Training and Learning Centre of the ESA Academy since 2016.

Wallonia's first involvement in the aeronautics sector was related to military contracts in the 1920s.

Wallonia hosts the aeronautics research centre Cenaero and a business park dedicated to the space sector, and Galaxia, which was selected in 2016 by the European Commission for the installation of the terrestrial maintenance platform for the Galileo constellation, a European satellite navigation system.

Flanders too has a strategic research centre, VITO, in the area of cleantech and sustainable development and the famous IMEC, the world-leading R&D and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, both involved in the development of the sector.

Today, Belgium is a crucial player in the aerospace industry. Its aeronautics sector employs over 10,000 people directly and many more indirectly, and is worth about 2.5 billion euros.

The market is mostly divided between Wallonia (300 million euros) and Flanders (240 million euros). Two-thirds of the industry turnover derive from ESA programmes.

Belgium has one of the highest space budgets per capita in the world, comparable with the United States, Russia, Germany and Japan. Belgium also ranks among the top countries when it comes to R&D in space programmes as a percentage of GDP.

The sector draws large amounts of foreign investment. Many companies in the Aerospace Top 100, including almost all top 20 companies, have branches in Belgium.

Wallonia is also considered as one of the best locations in Europe to establish logistics and distribution activities. In addition to its traditional assets, Wallonia offers particularly interesting advantages for e-commerce.

The airport of Liège is one of Europe's biggest cargo airports, with a direct UPS (TNT) link between Singapore and the Liege airport.

Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies and Northrop Grumman - collectively the top five biggest aerospace companies in the world - hold office in Brussels. Thales and Safran have a big presence too.

There are also hundreds of small enterprises working in niches, such as composite materials, software simulation, additive manufacturing, high-tech critical parts, advanced materials, electrical systems.

Food industry

Think of Belgian food and you might list beer, chocolate and waffles as some of the top answers. It might surprise some to know that French fries are not French, but rather a Belgian recipe that is the result of "frenching", a process that refers to cutting potatoes lengthwise into long thin strips and then frying them.

Belgians, like Singaporeans, love food. The finest ingredients and drinks have become over the centuries an integral part of Belgium's philosophy and way of life.

There are more than 200 active breweries in Belgium, including international companies, such as AB InBev, and traditional breweries including Trappist monasteries. Together, they produce more than 1,600 different kinds of beers.

The largest chocolate factory, Barry Callebaut, is located in Belgium and supplies international companies with the finest chocolate ingredient.

The chocolate bonbon, or praline, was invented in Brussels in 1912 by Jean Neuhaus, and has become the hallmark of Belgian confectionery. Chocolate bars are also enormously popular with giants like Côte d'Or.

Brands such as Godiva and Leonidas are sold around the world. In total, there are over 2,000 Belgian chocolatiers.

More than half of Belgium's food farmland is concentrated in Wallonia. Researchers with the help of farmers have developed special cattle, the Blanc Bleu Belge, an extremely lean, hyper-sculpted breed that gives a high yield of good meat.

However, the vision of food innovation with a multidisciplinary approach is just as important to Wallonia as traditional food.

The Smart Gastronomy Lab experiences with food and culinary practices. Current R&D topics are 3D food printing, lacto-fermentation, new ingredients such as insects and micro algae, and the impact of different cooking process on the taste.

Some of the world's leading multinationals, including Nestlé, Danone, Ferrero, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Monsanto, have chosen to site their headquarters in Brussels.

Food is Flanders' third largest industrial activity with three quarters of Belgium's turnover. Around 30 per cent of all frozen vegetable production in the European Union tales place in Belgium.

  • This article was written by Edith Mayeux, a Trade and Investment Counsellor. She can be contacted at e.mayeux@awex-wallonia.com and +65 9271 3420.