Opportunities in Belgium: Gateway to Europe

Opportunities in Belgium
Luke Smith
October 8, 2019

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The European Union, you see, is like a pizza. Each member state is just a different slice of the market. And Belgium, the capital of the EU, is the delivery driver waiting for your call.

Or so explains Bart Schobben, Belgium’s Trade Commissioner to Western Canada, speaking to more than 40 participants gathered at the Edmonton Convention Centre for the event Opportunities in Belgium: Gateway to Europe, which was presented by Edmonton Economic Development and the Consulate General of Belgium in Vancouver. The event took place on October 1st and featured Mr. Schobben and Reinout Van Hullebus, Investment Advisor with Inward Investment, as they outlined the many growth opportunities in the EU and the importance of Belgium as the gateway to them.

Opportunities Abound

If you are looking to grow globally, targeting the European Union makes a lot of sense. Why? Mr. Reinhout and Schoeben were happy to lay out their case.

First, the lack of trade restrictions between Canada and the European Union enables convenient access to the hundreds of millions of consumers in the EU. Because of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Canadian companies have unparalleled access to the entire EU market. While not officially ratified, CETA is in all practicality essentially enacted. Whatever tariffs are in place still are limited and inconsequential to trade, says Mr. Schobben.

The EU is an open market, and it is a massive market. It has a population of over 500 million and a 15 trillion USD-sized economy.

And it is not a passive market—there is an active desire for Canadian products and business, but not enough supply is coming in, says Mr. Schobben. Canadian products have a good reputation in the world, and especially Europe. Offering encouragement, he says “I often hear from people in Canada that they are afraid to export to the EU because they are just small or medium sized enterprises. That is not a problem! Being a small business is not a problem. Belgium itself is a country of SMEs. You can absolutely succeed as an SME exporting to Europe.”

And because the European Union is a shared regulatory environment, you will only need to deal with customs one time when accessing the entire market; once you bring your product in to one country, you can then deal your product in any other country in the EU. Underscoring this point was Frederick Leentfaar, Attorney at Law, and Marie Keup, Counsel, both with the international law firm TaylorWessing. They were able to join the event via video conference from the Netherlands to provide input and answer questions from the participants.

Additionally, the EU is a secure place to do business. Because it is governed by tough regulations, the strict rule of law, and some of the most stringent data protections in the world, dealing within the EU is a low-risk endeavor—an advantage over other global markets that do not afford foreign companies that level of certainty.

Supply Chain Simplicity

Also speaking at the event was Trevor Caswell, Account Manager with Edmonton International Airport. Of the many hurdles inherent to international trade, supply-chain and shipping should not be one of them, he explained. EIA, with its emerging Airport City, has tremendous capacity and the connections to Europe to adequately handle your supply chain needs, whether your product is perishables, agri-food, bio-pharma, life sciences products, or whatever else.

Brussels as a Bridge

Approaching export to the EU may still seem like a daunting task, however. Dealing with many different countries, each with their own cultures, practices, and norms may seem overwhelming. Which is why Mr. Reinhout and Mr. Schobben were promoting Belgium as the best point of entry.

As a historical trading nation and the capital of the European Union, Brussels is the ideal hub for the entire market. Well-positioned both geographically and politically, Brussels is the connecting point for the capitals of Europe. The base of the most important institutions in the EU, including the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and others, Brussels is home to many international associations and more than 5000 diplomats—putting it on par with other important political capitals like Washington and Beijing.

Many businesses are already capitalizing on this, with currently around 1500 foreign companies having set up their EU headquarters or sales subsidiaries in Brussels.

Belgium is the stopping and the starting point for Europe, Mr. Schoeben says, the place where you can find the help you need to succeed in whichever European market you are targeting. There you will find the decision-makers, partners, and services needed to deal with all the cultural differences and intricacies inherent to doing business in each individual country.

Get Growing

Continuing with the culinary theme, Mr. Schobben throws out a challenge: Belgium, he is confident, still has the best beer in the world, but he would like to see more Canadian craft beer in their market providing some competition. Will anyone take him up on this?

The EU is clearly hungry for Canadian products. Get in touch with our team and we can help you start exporting there today.

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