At a breakfast meeting of the Belgian Canadian Business Chamber (BCBC) Business with Belgium Seminar Series on November 28, Gilles Brédas, Economic and Commercial Counselor, Consulate General of Belgium in Toronto outlined how his homeland is an ideal place for Canadian exporters, importers and investors to leverage the benefits of the recently signed Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA).
Thanks to its location at the heart of Europe, its capital city Brussels is the home of the European Council and the European Parliament as well as NATO headquarters. That helps make it is truly a global city since it also hosts more international organizations than Washington DC and almost as many embassies as New York, home of the United Nations.
As well, the country becomes an ideal entry point for Canadian goods to reach the 500 million consumers in the 28-member European Union through its major ports such as Antwerp and Bruges as well as Brussels airport. From there, goods can be distributed quickly to its EU neighbors through its modern rail and highway links. Moreover, Belgium has earned the reputation of being an ideal test market for imported products before introducing them into neighbouring EU markets.
It is also a business-friendly environment since the government has cut red tape horizontally. For example, foreign firms can have business permits approved in less than a week after application. As well, Belgium also offers other business support policies such as permitting foreign applicants to retain 100 per cent ownership of branch offices. In addition, its competitive corporate tax rates are often lower than its EU neighbours. Hiring high-calibre local staff is simple since Belgium is home to more than a dozen top-rated universities. Moreover, the government offers generous research grants to qualified applicants.
Beyond its three official languages — French, German and Flemish (a form of Dutch), English is widely spoken. Brussels is located close to other major European financial and business centres such as Paris, London and Berlin. Bredas points out that real estate prices in Brussels are often more reasonable than those in other major European business centres.
Brussels is also a pleasant place to live and work thanks to a wide variety of cultural sites and sports activities. Its extensive array of gourmet restaurants and a lively bar scene featuring local beers and wines provides numerous venues for business and social entertainment. All work and no play is very dull.
In her brief remarks, Hedy Afsharian, Director of Business Banking at the CIBC outlined the services the bank offers to Belgian and other European investors seeking to find suitable financial opportunities in Canada.
As well, Alexandre Braconnier, Montréal-based chief representative officer of Degroof Petercam, a 150-year old Belgian private bank is seeking to help Canadian corporations, individual and multi-family investors as well as pension funds to expand their financial horizons beyond North America. The firm’s approach, among others, includes alternative investment funds based on the so-called “Luxembourg toolbox”.