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A LED bulb factory in Gurugram, India. © Shutterstock
Immediately after India's independence, in 1947, Belgium established diplomatic relations with the vast South Asian country. So from the very beginning, our country had an embassy there. The current embassy building in New Delhi dates back to 1984 and is by renowned Indian artist Satish Gujral, who combined painting, sculpture and architecture. Our embassy is hailed as one of the most beautiful Indian buildings of the 20th century. Our country is in India also represented by a consulate general in Mumbai
Our embassy in New Delhi is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in India from the 20th century. © FPS Foreign Affairs
Ostend Company in 1723
However, our region's relations with the Indian subcontinent go back much further. As early as 1723, boats arrived from the Ostend Company. This counterpart to the United East India Company of the Northern Netherlands was especially adept at trading in tea and luxury goods such as crystal. In the 19th century, Jesuit missionaries went to Bengal and left behind a network of educational institutions. Bengal corresponds to present-day West Bengal (north-eastern India) and Bangladesh.
Belgium enjoys a sometimes little-known, but solid image in India. Belgian products like diamonds are known for their high quality, but chocolate, beer and crystal are also linked to Belgium. More than 750 Indian students and scientists are studying or conducting research at Belgian universities and colleges.
Pharmaceutical and technology hub
The Indian region boasts a tremendously long and rich history that stretches back thousands of years before Christ. Today, India has become the 2nd most populous country in the world, with some 1.38 billion inhabitants in 2020. It is second only to China (1.44 billion).
The giant country is currently the 5th-largest economy in the world in absolute terms. In terms of purchasing power parity – a parameter that allows countries to be compared more correctly – it even ranks 3rd. India is performing very strongly in the pharmaceutical (vaccines, etc.) and technology sectors, among others. This makes it an important partner for Belgium. Hence, this 75th anniversary is dedicated to our economic relations.
Trend towards more diversity
In 2021, India was Belgium's 14th-largest customer and our 16th-largest supplier. For India, our country is the 3rd-foremost trading partner within the EU. In 2021, our total exports were 6.2 billion euros, while India supplied goods for a total of 6.1 billion euros.
Our royal couple paid a successful state visit to India in 2017. This brought a new momentum to our trade relations and set the tone for greater diversification. Yet even today, 70% of our exports and 35.5% of our imports consist of diamonds.
Over the last 10 years, we do note that the sectors beyond diamonds are gradually becoming more diverse. In addition to diamonds, we also export chemical and pharmaceutical products (including medicines and vaccines), machinery and equipment, plastics, raw materials, optical instruments, and iron and steel. Besides polished diamonds, imports mainly include chemicals, raw materials, textiles, machinery and equipment, minerals and plastics.
We also trade in services, mainly services to companies as well as services for communications, transport and finance. We ourselves rely primarily on India's growing IT (information technology) sector, as well as services for communications, transport and insurance.
A steel plant in Jamshedpur, India. © Shutterstock
Belgium is also a valued investor in India. Last year, our country ranked as the 15th-largest investor at $361.7 million. Almost all major Belgian companies operate there. Conversely, there are as many as 95 Indian companies operating in Belgium too, including big names from diverse sectors.
Obviously the two countries have much to offer one another. Moreover, in these times when climate disruption, among other things, is forcing us to make a far-reaching energy transition, we have every interest in making the most of the complementarity between India and Belgium. This 75th anniversary should therefore provide an additional incentive for strengthening and diversifying economic relations.
This anniversary also reminds us that such a long partnership is enriched by human contacts, and cultural, academic and scientific exchanges whose potential can still be developed.