Christian Frayssignes, Vice-President, Belgian Canadian Business Chamber set the overall tone for the Business with Belgium seminar by reminding attendees that as a small, stable and geographically strategic marketplace, Belgium is an ideal entry point for Canadian exporters to expand into the European Union.
In her brief comments on how the EU functions, Nadiya Nychay, Partner, Dentons Europe LLP, explained that the European Union consists of 28 member countries, 19 of which share a common currency, the Euro and is home to 500 million consumers. Unlike NAFTA, the EU is a customs union with an integrated system of trade and business regulations. However, individual member states still have their own legislation regarding areas over which they hold domestic competency.
Regarding the topic of choosing a strategy for expanding into Europe, Xavier Van Overmeire, Regional Head of the International Trade Group, Dentons Canada LLP suggested three basic approaches — direct representation through distributors or agents, licensing technology or formal partnerships. Each brings with it various legal challenges, which can be further complicated by the European civil law regime, similar to the one used in Quebec. It is different from the English common-law tradition found in the rest of Canada.
Many of these points are covered in greater detail in his book, The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU: An Overview.
Commenting on “What’s new, Update on Trade Agreements, Tips and Traps” Robert Sacco, GTA Trade & Customs Leader at KPMG stated that Canada currently has signed 11 free trade agreements. The Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU is expected to be signed by the end of this year with the ratification process to follow.
He further noted that FTAs reduce tariffs on manufactured products such as Belgian chocolates making them cheaper for Canadian consumers. In the other direction, lower EU tariffs on various Canadian agri-food products will make them more competitive over there.
In the round-table discussion, Andre van der Heyden, VP & COO, Belgian Canadian Business Chamber, reminded the audience that although Belgium has a population of only about 11.5 million people, it is truly the capital of Europe. Brussels is the site of the headquarters of NATO and of the European Commission, the EU’s administrative arm. As a result, it is a very useful, global networking centre thanks to the 5,000 diplomats stationed there.
It is also a key European logistics hub with Antwerp being the second busiest seaport in Europe. Geographically, it is within a four-hour drive of 500 million Western European consumers in the so-called Golden Banana.
A further example of Belgium’s logistical drawing power came from Mieke Pynnaert, Montreal-based Head of the Economic Mission of Flanders at the Consulate General of Belgium. During a recent visit to a Mississauga firm, she learned that it had just moved its European logistics distribution centre to Antwerp from Rotterdam.
Gilles Brédas, Trade Commissioner, Brussels Invest & Export, Montreal highlighted public-sector procurement opportunities resulting from CETA could be worth up to €3 billion for governments and NGOs.
Joey Barnes, Toronto-based Senior Manager, Export Development Canada pointed out many of the financial, insurance and information services that EDC offers to Canadian exporters of all sizes. These include risk management, bonding, foreign exchange hedging products etc. to supplement those offered by other Canadian financial institutions.
Bill Macheras Toronto-based Trade Commissioner Service, Global Affairs Canada suggests that Belgium as a sophisticated marketplace, the sectors offering the most promise for Canadian exporters include infrastructure, renewable energy, clean tech and logistics services.
The last word goes to Nadiya Nychay, “Setting up a business in Europe will likely take longer and cost more than you think because of differences in legislation, language, culture and time zones. Build those into your plans.”
Congrats Anne Popoff for winning a Round Trip Business Class ticket to Brussels courtesy of Brussels Airlines!
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