In one of the largest missions ever organised, more than 400 participants led by Princess Astrid – including 214 companies and organisations, along with top ministers from federal and regional governments – will be travelling to the United Kingdom from Belgium in order to rebuild and strengthen economic ties between the two nations in a post-Brexit world.
Brussels, in particular, is hoping to build back bridges.
“After the pandemic and Brexit, it is important to allow our companies to re-establish their links with the United Kingdom,” said Pascal Smet, Brussels Secretary of State for Foreign Trade and International Relations.
The UK was the seventh-largest customer of the Brussels Region when it comes to exports of goods, but Smet said that while that market is important, it is currently “in decline.”
Exports of Brussels goods to the United Kingdom fell by half (-53%) between 2020 and 2021, reaching €207.6 million, compared to growth of +49.7% and a value of €442.3 million in 2019 and 2020. Both numbers are still far from levels reached in years prior to that.
Brussels and London to exchange practices and experiences
Two sectors for which Brussels will bring its expertise to Britain are arbitration and sustainable construction.
“These sectors are in line with the priorities of the Brussels Region, a region in the midst of an economic transition, whose entrepreneurial fabric is mainly focused on services – an indisputable advantage on the British market,” said Isabelle Grippa, CEO of hub.brussels.
From left to right: Tinne Van der Straeten, Princess Astrid, Pascal Smet.
Hub.brussels will be leading activities that facilitate the exchange of practices and experiences between Belgian and British partners, including on how both European capitals can become net-positive cities.
This would mean that the cities are not only carbon neutral when it comes to emissions, but also “give back” in terms of creating green energy.
“Brussels is a pioneer and world-renowned capital in the field of sustainable and circular construction. This seminar will be an opportunity to highlight the Region's efforts and expertise in this sector,” Grippa said.
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As a result of Brexit, trade relations became governed by the provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK that came into force in 2021. The TCA leaves room for Member States to build further cooperation with the UK, as long as it is in line with its principles, which is what Belgium hopes to do with its economic mission.
This will be the first such mission to take place since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago.