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Princess Astrid discussing with Senegalese President Macky Sall (© FPS Foreign affairs).
From 21 to 25 May 2023, a princely economic mission travelled to Senegal. The West African country offers many opportunities, not only with its huge growth market and its dynamic young people, but also as a gateway to Africa.
Senegal has long been no stranger to our country. In 1960, for example, Belgium was the 7th country to recognise Senegal's independence and international solidarity programmes were launched as early as 1968. King Baudouin made a state visit to the West African country in 1975.
Even today, Senegal is still one of the partner countries of the Belgian Development Cooperation. The country is also resolutely working to build a diversified market economy with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and investment. In fact, supporting entrepreneurship is an important component of our bilateral cooperation with Senegal.
A huge growth market
With exports worth more than 1 billion euros by 2022, Belgium is Senegal's 6th largest supplier. Within the EU, this made us the leading exporter and the 5th leading importer. No fewer than 1,040 Belgian companies already export to Senegal and a further 2,140 companies are also showing interest in this market.
From an economic perspective, the West African country has a lot to offer. With its strong economic growth – which may reach 10% in 2024 – it represents a huge growth market. Senegal is also open to foreign investors in infrastructure. Located at a crossroads of sea routes, it forms an important gateway to Africa. Monetarily speaking, it is also quite stable.
Plenty of reasons, therefore, to organise an economic mission in that country under the leadership of Princess Astrid. The most recent trade mission to Africa was back in 2018 (Morocco) and to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017 (Côte d’Ivoire). The mission to Senegal would have taken place earlier but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
155 companies, 38 cooperation agreements and 1500 business contacts
No fewer than 155 companies participated in the mission, as well as a whole host of universities and organisations. In addition to Princess Astrid, the delegation was also accompanied by Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib, Wallonia's Minister of Economic Affairs Willy Borsus and the Brussels State Secretary for International Relations Pascal Smet.
The economic aspect of the mission focused on port logistics, pharma and biotechnology, food and agribusiness, sustainable construction, renewable energy sources, water treatment and the environment. In the end, as many as 38 investment and academic cooperation agreements were signed, more than originally hoped for. More than 1,500 business-to-business (B2B) contacts also took place.
In addition to signing contracts, a trade mission primarily offers an opportunity to maintain existing relationships and explore new markets. For example, the BelOrta fruit and vegetable auction investigated sales of apples and pears in Senegal, as well as vegetables and soft and stone fruits.
The delegation visited a liquid bulk terminal of the Belgian group SEA-invest in the port of Dakar (© FPS Foreign affairs).
Lime, ports and pharmaceuticals
One of the highlights was undoubtedly the inauguration of a state-of-the-art lime plant belonging to the Belgian group Carmeuse. The facility is capable of producing high-quality lime locally for use in industrial gold mines in Senegal, Mali and Guinea. After all, the lime is needed to extract gold, but can also be used in construction and in the production of fertiliser.
Princess Astrid also inaugurated new recycling and production facilities belonging to the Compagnie Industrielle des Fibres Sénégal. The Belgian company, which has been present in Africa for 70 years, produces bags for agricultural products and flour. Originally, the sacks were made from jute, but nowadays they are made from polypropylene.
The port of Dakar was also an important agenda item. There, Belgian and Senegalese investors are joining forces so that the port can maintain its position as Senegal's main logistics hub to serve all of West Africa. The delegation visited a liquid bulk terminal belonging to the Belgian group SEA-invest and a project for the expansion of a multipurpose terminal of the Belgian maritime holding company Conti-Lines.
The biotechnology and pharmaceuticals sectors were extensively covered. For example, the delegation visited the Institut Pasteur's MADIBA project, which aims to produce 300 million vaccine doses a year (MADIBA = Manufacturing in Africa for Disease Immunisation and Building Autonomy). The project is intended to give Africa more autonomy by enabling it to produce vaccines and other essential health products. MADIBA involves 2 Belgian companies, namely Unizima – a subsidiary of the biotechnology company Univercells – and the engineering consultancy My Engineering. The Rega Institute (KU Leuven) and ULB are also participating.
The innovation fair Jigeen Ñi Tamit ('Women too') - an initiative funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation - aims to stimulate female entrepreneurship in food processing (© FPS Foreign affairs).
More women in the economy
Female entrepreneurship received much attention during the mission. For example, our embassy in Dakar organised a seminar on the economic empowerment of women. Enabling women to take up a more prominent role in the economy is a priority for the Senegalese government and also for Belgian foreign policy. The delegation also attended the inauguration of an innovation fair entitled Jigeen Ñi Tamit (‘Women too’), an initiative funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation. The aim of the initiative was to encourage female entrepreneurship in food processing.
In addition, Minister Lahbib, together with her Senegalese counterpart, launched the Jigeen Njiit project, which will provide leadership training for 10 female executives from the Senegalese public administration. The training will be funded by the FPS Foreign Affairs and conducted by the Egmont Institute. A similar project has already taken place with great success in Niger.
The mission also proved to be more than useful for academics. Amongst other things, an academic partnership was developed between the 3 French-speaking universities of Geneva, Montreal and Brussels with the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar.
Princess Astrid and the delegation also had breakfast with Senegalese students who studied in Belgium. The alumni talked about the importance of their academic experiences in our country. Belgium creates a great many opportunities for foreign students to study with us. As they increase in number, those alumni come to form a substantial network of distinguished contacts abroad.
Culture and politics were also not forgotten. The official reception actually took place at the famous Museum of Black Civilisations (MCN) and there was also time for a short visit. The AfricaMuseum works closely with the MCN. Recently (in April), they organised a scientific conference of museum directors from Africa and Europe.
Together with the official delegation, Princess Astrid met with the Senegalese President Macky Sall and the country's Prime Minister Amadou Ba, while Minister Lahbib was able to confer at length with her counterpart, the Senegalese Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad, Aïssata Tall Sall.
During the official reception in the famous Musée des civilisations noires there was also time for a short visit (© FPS Foreign affairs).
On equal terms
As always, this trade mission had a busy schedule. All those who took part look back on it as an engaging and stimulating experience. Senegal is buzzing with creativity and has a lot to offer. For Belgian companies, it is often more advantageous to set up a local branch than to export goods there by sea.
As one Senegalese minister enthusiastically put it, "In the end, it's not a case of hands that are begging, but of hands that also have something to offer." A partnership on equal terms, in other words. Hopefully, this is something that will be widely replicated in other African countries. Because, in any case, Africa is becoming an increasingly important partner because of its flourishing economic activity, its large sales market and its dynamic young people.