- Peter Huyghebaert, Consul General, Belgium
India is Belgium´s 11th largest export destination and fourth largest trade partner outside Europe. Bilateral trade between both countries during January-December 2015 stood at € 111.95 billion. Major exports from India to Belgium in 2015 were in the sectors of gems and jewellery, textiles, chemicals and chemical products. The cumulative FDI inflows from Belgium into India amounted to $896.09 million from April 2000 to March 2016, making Belgium the 22nd largest investor in India. In terms of offering expertise and services, there are around 160 Belgian companies present in India and many Indian companies have also invested in Belgium, which is seen as a preferred gateway to Europe. Indian companies, particularly in the IT and software sectors (such as TCS, Infosys, Tech Mahindra and HCL), have established a base in Belgium to cater to the Belgian and European markets. Peter Huyghebaert, Consul General, Belgium, shares more on the importance of India for Belgian companies is in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.
Tell us about the trade relations between India and Belgium.
The combined bilateral trade is around €12 billion. It´s quite substantial, a large chunk of which is diamonds. When it comes to construction, broadly speaking, we have a couple of Belgian companies that operate in India in specific niche markets where we have assets.
For instance, in the dredging and marine construction sector, we are among the world players. Two Belgian companies, DEME and Jan De Nul, which operate out of Chennai are among the biggest players in that specific sector. Through its Indian subsidiary International Seaport Dredging (ISD), DEME recently did dredging works for the Fourth Container Terminal at JNPT. These companies are monitoring the Indian market from close by as there are huge projects of land reclamations, dredging and marine construction lying ahead.
Also, please tell us about any
big-ticket construction infrastructure projects coming up in Belgium. Belgian companies have expertise in specific domains. For some specific infrastructure projects, they tie up with major Indian companies such as L&T and Reliance. For instance, in India, the waste management part of the Reliance factory in Gujarat has been done through a Belgian company. Talking about smart city projects, while L&T is the main contractor for the Mumbai City Surveillance project, one of its subcontractors is Belgian-based Barco that specialises in control rooms. This company has a state-of-the-art plant in Noida.
The Noida plant, which employs 700 people in India, accounts for one-third of its workforce worldwide. Similarly, there are a number of other businesses wherein Belgian companies extend their expertise. Belgium is characterised by a large number of SMEs. So, they often prefer tying up with larger groups to approach the Indian market. As far as construction works in Belgium are concerned, I don´t really see much potential for big Indian construction firms to construct big projects in Belgium but they could use Belgium as a bridge to the European market; moreover, given the presence of European institutions in Brussels.
There are a few Indian companies operating in Belgium, though, especially in the IT sector...
There are currently about 80 Indian companies firmly established in Belgium in the IT sector as well as other sectors such as automotive, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, banking and logistics. Belgium is favourably located in the centre of Europe and is a renowned logistics hub, thanks to its well-developed infrastructure and abundance of logistic space. So, we are constantly working towards reaching out to Indian companies to promote our country as a European hub.
Tell us about the presence of Belgian companies in India.
There are around 160 Belgium companies operating in India. Around 60 of them are to be found in the West, in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. They are operating in various sectors, such as the manufacturing sector (mainly in and around Pune), the chemical sector, energy and environmental technologies, etc. With new legislation passed and efforts made to increase the ease of doing business in India today, it seems to have become easier to conquer the Indian market. More and more companies nowadays look at India.
What are the challenges faced by Belgium companies setting up their base in India?
From a business perspective, they often find it tough to identify the right partner. Many challenges are also more administrative in nature, red tape still being firmly present in India. Apart from the ease of doing business, acquiring land, access to skilled labour and assured and affordable energy are some of the challenges faced.
Do you see a lot of Belgium-based companies coming to ´Make in India´ for India?
Make in India is an option to be closer to the customer because India is a huge market and that cannot be ignored. This is one of the prime reasons why foreign companies come to India and consider producing in the country. But there are also select companies, though fewer in numbers, which produce for export markets. I guess there are still competitiveness-related issues that prevent India from producing for the global world market. But things are gradually changing in a positive sense.
What role does the consulate play in getting Belgium companies to India, and vice versa?
Our job mainly involves helping Belgian companies who wish to export to India. That is done through the trade offices of Flanders and Walloon region, based in our consulate. When companies show interest, we explain ways in which they can approach the Indian market, the current market scenario, the interesting segments, etc. For instance, interesting sectors identified, such as smart cities or clean technology, become the main focus of an economic mission, such as the Flanders mission that took place in April. In such cases, we invite speakers from both sides and try to set up B2B meetings to link Belgian companies to their Indian counterparts. There are also sector-focused missions that focus more on companies active in a particular sector such as the cement sector.
Then, in terms of getting Indian investment to Belgium, I have been visiting large Indian groups to understand their strategy towards the European markets; to see if there is potential and if they could set up base in Belgium. Together with the trade and investment offices, we organise the Invest Missions to present the investment climate in Belgium and its regions.
These missions often take place in collaboration with local economic bodies, such as the Chamber of Commerce or MCCIA, Gujarat Chamber of Commerce, etc.
How do you see both governments collaborating to promote business?
We have a kind of bilateral platform, which is called the Joint Economic Commission. Last year, it took place in Belgium; in 2017, it will take place in India. During these joint meetings, we discuss at length a number of economic issues, our strengths and in what fields we can work better together. In this context, it can be useful to set up a common framework for collaboration through an MoU, as recently done in the field of renewable energy.
The year 2017 will be a landmark one, as it will indicate 70 years of diplomatic relations between both countries, further culminating in a state visit of the Belgium royal couple to India by the end of 2017.
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