1st edition 2014, January

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Focus on the 2014 Belgian Economic Mission to Saudi Arabia and Oman

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Belgian companies are currently gearing up for the Belgian Economic Mission to Saudi Arabia and Oman, which will take place from 14 until 21 March 2014. Who is better placed than Mr. Marc Bogaerts, Director General of the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency (BFTA), to explain our readers how the Economic Trade Mission can provide added value to their business.

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Mr. Bogaerts, could you briefly outline the main responsibilities of your organization?

Bogaerts: "The Belgian Foreign Trade Agency is the result of a cooperation agreement signed between the federal government and the regional governments. In short, the Agency works for the three regional agencies for the promotion for Foreign Trade & Investment and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Agency engages in specific tasks such as organizing, developing and disseminating information, preparing studies and documentation on foreign markets to the benefit of the regional services responsible for foreign trade etc…

Simply put, we try, in close collaboration with our colleagues from Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT), Brussels Invest and Export (BIE) and AWEX, to facilitate the export activities of our Belgian companies, in order to improve their export performance and profit. We publish studies and statistics and forward trade information to 23,000 companies that have been included in our exporters’ database. This trade information ranges from open tenders to interesting market information. Another important department of the BFTA is the service ‘Regulations’ and ‘Legislation’ offering exporting companies tailored advice on widely divergent topics. Finally, the BFTA also provides advice about international trade regulations and legislation to Belgian exporting companies."

A whopping 74% of the participants claimed that the trade missions helped to achieve their intended results. Even more impressive is that an average 52 % of the results obtained was attributed to the missions and an average 35 % of the results couldn’t be obtained without participation at a trade mission, according to some participants.

And let’s not forget about the missions.

Bogaerts: "Indeed. That is what we are best-known for, the coordination of the missions. We are very pleased that the princely missions are very successful. The past three years all records have been broken: we achieved the highest number of participants, the most business people, the highest amount of contracts being signed ..."

How do you explain this success?

Bogaerts: "A company participating in a trade mission is in reality mainly looking for one thing: higher profits. This can manifest itself through increased exports and more successful investments. In 2013, a student at the University of Ghent promoted with a study on the impact of trade missions. We were pleasantly surprised by the results."

Is it possible to measure the impact of the trade missions?

Bogaerts: "Definitely. Companies rarely tell us about their concrete results, they prefer to keep these for themselves. But we do notice in recent years more participants with a high degree of fidelity. This would not be the case if the missions did not create any added value."

I therefore refer to the study mentioned above. Mathematical models proved the existence of a link between Belgian export results and trade missions. But I attach more value to the survey of Belgian companies who participate. A whopping 74% of the participants claimed that the trade missions helped to achieve their intended results. Even more impressive is that an average 52 % of the results obtained was attributed to the missions and an average 35 % of the results couldn’t be obtained without participation in a trade mission, according to some participants.

What characterizes our commercial relations with Saudi-Arabia and Oman?

Bogaerts: "In 2012, Saudi-Arabia occupied the 32th place on the list of the most important buyers of the Belgian export for goods. Chemical products are responsible for 31,5% of the total Belgian export to Saudi-Arabia. As for the services, Saudi-Arabia is the 31th most important costumer of Belgium. Communication has been the most important service with 36.9% of all rendered services. This tendency has been confirmed in the first six months of 2013. Also Oman is a very interesting partner for Belgium. The main sectors of interests in the Omani-Belgian relationship are chemical products and plastics, but opportunities exist in a wide array of sectors. The economic mission will provide excellent opportunities to optimize the commercial relations between both countries and Belgium."

What are the most important activities that take place during such missions?

Bogaerts: "Activities range from general information sessions with the entire delegation to very specific sectorial roundtables for a select group of companies and their local counterparts. We always try to have a well-balanced program. At the end of the mission, each participating company has a better understanding of the local market: the available opportunities, important things to keep in mind when doing business etc. If this is complemented with the right B2Bs and possibly with sector-related activities, the missions can really make a world of difference. Furthermore, the presence of the Princess and Ministers do open doors that would otherwise remain closed."

Will the mission to Saudi Arabia & Oman be presided over by HRH Princess Astrid?

Bogaerts: "His Majesty the King has decided to stay on as the Honorary President of the BFTA. It is therefore possible that he still will preside over economic missions in future. After his coronation, he asked his sister, HRH Princess Astrid, to represent him at the first economic missions. HRH Princess Astrid presided over the mission to Angola & South Africa and to India. We only received positive comments on how the Princess has taken the lead during those past missions. According to the previously cited study the presence of a member of the Royal Family is a key element to the success of the trade missions. And that will certainly be the case in Saudi Arabia, which as you know is a Kingdom too."

What can participants to the Saudi Arabia & Oman mission expect?

Bogaerts: "The mission will take place from 14th to 21st March 2014 and will primarily focus on Riyadh, Jeddah and Muscat. We have, in consultation with the regional agencies, defined some key sectors such as (sports) infrastructure, energy and clean technology, health and pharmaceuticals, logistics and port-related activities and, finally, services and banks. It is still too early to comment on the program (this interview took place in December, ed.), but the agenda is becoming well-packed. Both information sessions with key speakers and some promising seminars are as good as confirmed. We are also evaluating the possibilities concerning the Port of Duqm, a very interesting project in Oman. And of course, we will provide ample opportunities for networking."

How can one register for a mission?

Bogaerts: "Registrations takes place through the regional departments. Flemish companies should contact “FIT”, Brussels companies “Brussels Invest & Export” and Walloon companies “AWEX”. They help you out with specific information on how to register, what the participation cost of the mission might be and which compensations you might apply for. For every mission a travel agency is chosen to arrange the logistical aspects of the mission, including the booking of flights and hotels. These services lower the barrier for participation in the mission."

Our bags are packed!

 

More information:www.abh-ace.be
Contact: Mr. Wouter Decoster, Junior Economic Mission Coordinator
T: +32 2 206 35 74 – E:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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