Economic mission to Japan: stronger together in pursuit of a green and digital transition

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Princess Astrid shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

During the mission, HRH Princess Astrid met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. © FPS Foreign affairs

The princely economic mission to Japan (5 to 9 December 2022) not only generated numerous economic and academic opportunities, but it also firmly cemented the bonds of friendship that exist between the two countries.

Belgium and Japan have already maintained a close economic partnership for a very long time. It was actually as long ago as 1866 that the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. Since then, Japan has emerged as a major investor in our country. As many as 293 Japanese companies are active and are therefore creating employment opportunities in Belgium today. Conversely, some 80 Belgian companies are established in the Japanese market.

Belgium's second-largest economic mission

Belgium and Japan are also important trading partners. Of the Member States of the European Union (EU), for example, Belgium is the third-largest importer from Japan, importing goods to the value of €9.3 billion in 2021. As a small country, we are even the second-largest exporters to Japan. In 2021, exports reached €7.6 billion, partly boosted by demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Japan.

It is therefore not surprising that an economic mission to Japan – led, as is traditionally the case, by H.R.H. Princess Astrid – meets with such a high degree of approval amongst Belgian companies. As many as 210 leading companies took part in the mission, in addition to a number of universities and research centres and with 575 participants, it turned out to be the largest economic mission ever to Japan and the second-largest Belgian economic mission.

business lunch

Minister Lahbib (far right) addresses participants during a business lunch. © FPS Foreign affairs

Clean and innovative technologies

The two countries actually have a lot to offer each other, as both Belgium and Japan are faced with enormous challenges. That was the reason why both resolutely opted to pursue a double green and digital transition with the intention of becoming climate neutral by 2050.

Clean and innovative technologies were overwhelmingly in the spotlight. That was the reason why H.R.H. Princess Astrid unveiled a model of the Sea Challenger, a ship that the Belgium-based DEME Group intends to deploy in Japanese waters for the installation of offshore wind turbines. The Princess also attended the opening of a Decarbonation Conference that focused on technology development in the area of hydrogen and offshore wind energy.

The visit to the Suzuka International Racing Course, which is well-known in the world of Formula One, was also dominated by climate ambitions. After all, racing circuits play an important role in the innovations that the car industry will need to implement along the road towards becoming climate neutral. Suzuka also has a long-term friendship agreement with Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges

This visit to Japan would also not have been complete without the presence of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges – the largest car-importing port in the world. The mission itself also included the signing of the renewed agreement between the Belgian port and the Port of Nagoya, the world's largest port for car exports. The agreement itself needed to be renewed following the merger between the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge.

Both the Port of Antwerp-Bruges and the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha are specialists in RoRo car shipping: the transportation of cars without containers. The cars are driven onto the seagoing vessels via sturdy loading ramps. Both companies also specialise in LNG (liquefied natural gas) and are aiming to be climate neutral by 2050.

The delegation visits Daikin's Innovation and Technology Centre (ICT) in Osaka

Visit to the Daikin Technical Innovation Centre (TIC). © FPS Foreign affairs


H.R.H. Princess Astrid and the delegation attended the inauguration of the world's first hydrogen-powered ferry. Known as the Hydrobingo, the vessel is the result of a collaboration between the Japanese company, Tsuneishi, and the Belgian shipping company, CMB.

The delegation also visited the Daikin Technical Innovation Center (TIC) in Osaka. The aim of the visit was to highlight the close cooperation with the Daikin Europe Development Center in Ostend and Ghent. Daikin TIC carries out fundamental research and product development in the areas of heating, cooling and ventilation, and also in chemicals and oil hydraulics.

The visit also paid considerable attention to technological innovation within the sectors of sustainable chemistry and life sciences (biotechnology and pharmaceuticals).

Belgian beer weekend

Minister Lahbib (left) and HRH Princess Astrid (right) during the Belgian beer weekend. © FPS Foreign affairs

Beer and video games

During the mission, our country's prowess in the culinary sector was also not forgotten. In Japan, ‘Belgium’ is synonymous with quality and reliability and a Belgian beer weekend succeeded in attracting a great deal of interest, while forming an ideal opportunity to establish contacts between Japanese importers of Belgian beers and Belgian brewers, including the brewers of various speciality beers. Belgium's other prized products were also placed in the spotlight, such as French fries, vegetables (Brussels sprouts, leeks, etc.), pears and pork.

Belgium's creative industries also formed part of the programme. In Kyoto, H.R.H. Princess Astrid announced the winning team of the Game Jam: a competition in which teams of young graduates competed to develop a video game within 48 hours. The Game Jam actually provided an opportunity to bring Japanese and Belgian creative talent together and put them in touch with Japanese producers. Kyoto is the heart of Japan's film, television, video and game industries. The world-renowned video game company, Nintendo, has its headquarters there.

In short, this 5-day mission provided countless opportunities to forge and enhance economic and academic contacts. In the end, no fewer than 50 bilateral agreements were signed.

Award ceremony

HRH Princess Astrid announces the winning team of the Game Jam. © FPS Foreign affairs

Leuven University Library

This large-scale mission was warmly welcomed by the Japanese authorities and received their valuable support. During the visit, H.R.H. Princess Astrid held discussions with the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida while Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, consulted with her Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi.

Within the framework of the Belgian National Action Plan ‘Enterprises and Human Rights’ a seminar was organised at Doshisha University. A panel of leading experts from the Japanese and Belgian business worlds discussed young people's expectations in terms of gender equality and how these can be translated into the business reality of today.

Our country also expressed its gratitude for the help Japan provided after World War One. In 1920, the Asian country donated a shipment of Japanese books as a contribution towards the rebuilding of the library at the University of Leuven (KUL-UCL) as it existed at that time, which had been destroyed as a result of the war.

The mission to Japan can certainly be regarded as successful. It not only created numerous economic and investment opportunities and strengthened the cooperation between Japanese and Belgian institutions, but it also firmly cemented the bonds of friendship that exist between the two countries.

Princely economic missions

Every year, our country organises 2 princely economic missions led by H.R.H. Princess Astrid. These missions have a significant impact on our economy and it is clear as day to see that the presence of a member of the royal family opens doors. They also make it much easier for our companies to establish contact with other companies abroad (Business to Business or B2B), including with key people at a high level. This in turn allows them to capture new markets or consolidate their market position.

The economic missions are prepared right down to the tiniest details. Our Federal Public Service – including Belgium's Embassy on the ground – plays an important coordinating role in this, in close consultation with the Palace, the Foreign Trade Agency and the regions. The mission also offers scope for countless seminars, workshops, networking events, corporate visits and B2B contacts.