Last updated on
Princess Astrid drives a tram in SLR's simulation room, designed and installed by the Belgian company Transurb (© FPS Foreign affairs).
The economic mission to Australia led by Princess Astrid (from 23 to 27 October 2023) provided much-needed contacts and contracts for Belgium in its role as an exporting country. Robust trade relations are more important than ever for our country.
The princely economic mission in October, which this time visited Australia, was once more a resounding success. During the official visits, conferences, meetings, formal and informal gatherings, as many as 25 new contracts were signed and more than 300 business contacts were made.
Princess Astrid – motivated, generous and enthusiastic
Of course, flying all the way down under is a long way to go, some 16,700 km. But it's worth it. You must not lose sight of the fact that Belgium is an exporting country through and through. A large part of our prosperity depends on the success of our SMEs and companies abroad. Exports actually account for 85% of our gross domestic product (GDP) and one in six jobs depends on exports.
And anyone who wants to export must make contacts and showcase their products convincingly. A princely economic mission provides an ideal opportunity to make that happen. Indeed, the fact that such a mission is being led by Princess Astrid herself opens even more doors. ‘The mission definitely didn't go unnoticed in Australia,’ said Belgium's Ambassador Goffin, afterwards. ‘The reason for that was the extended delegation of 315 people and the presence of four ministers but most of all was due to Princess Astrid herself, as she genuinely put herself forward in a motivated, generous and enthusiastic way.’
And that also didn't escape the attention of the local press. We counted no fewer than 264 reports in the traditional press, not including social media. The ABC even published an interview with Princess Astrid
The delegation visiting Bangaroo metro station, built by BESIX and its Australian subsidiary (© FPS Foreign affairs).
Despite being a small country, Belgium is actually performing quite remarkably in Australia, which is an extremely big country that is 256 times larger than Belgium. Did you know that Barangaroo Station – one of seven new metro stations in Sydney, the largest city on the "island continent" – was built by the Belgian company BESIX and its Australian affiliate? Or that would-be tram drivers at Sydney Light Rail – a light tram network – are able to practise in a state-of-the-art simulation room designed and installed by Belgium's Transurb? Or even that the Sydney Opera House – the most famous in the world – uses technology from the Belgian company EVS?
For its part, Studio 100 owns a company down under, namely Flying Bark Productions, where the delegation visited the company's brand-new studio. This Belgian company is one of the biggest European players in the family and children's entertainment market and supplies animated films and series to Netflix, Nickelodeon, Marvel, Lego and Disney+.
Did you know that the most famous opera in the world, the Sydney opera house, uses technology from the Belgian company EVS? (© FPS Foreign affairs).
During an economic mission, it also is a matter of responding as much as possible to the needs that exist in the country you are visiting. Australia, for example, has recently made a U-turn and now wishes to place a considerable focus on renewable energy. And in that particular field, Belgium certainly has a lot to offer. Take John Cockerill, a global player in electrolysis devices needed to produce green hydrogen, for example. DEME and Jan De Nul, in turn, specialise in offshore wind energy.
Even high-tech companies such as Accelera, the data player Gorilla and Nxtport – a spin-off of Port of Antwerp-Bruges – can also play a role. Nxtport has set up a digital platform to provide a means of exchanging data securely between port and maritime stakeholders in the state of New South Wales. The delegation visited that platform.
The delegation visiting the University of Melbourne, a pioneer in hearing treatments (© FPS Foreign affairs).
Life sciences and pharmaceuticals
Belgium is also a highly innovative player in the life sciences and pharmaceuticals sector. Ecosteryl, for example, successfully signed a contract to supply two machines for the disinfection of medical waste such as hypodermic needles in an environmentally friendly way. The pharmaceutical company UCB presented a method that enables the rapid analysis of genome sequencing in cases of severe epilepsy in children. The two countries are also cooperating closely in the field of nuclear medicine, especially in the production of radioisotopes.
Established businesses were not the only ones to make valuable contacts during the economic mission; universities too forged connections. For instance, the collaboration between GIGA – an interdisciplinary research institution in biomedical sciences at the University of Liège – and the University of Melbourne was put in the spotlight. Both institutions are pioneers and world leaders in the treatment of hearing disorders.
The mission also encompassed the food industry (chocolate, chips, cheese, beer, etc.), sports technology, the blue economy (sustainable seafood production, innovative fishing, etc.) and many more besides.
Princess Astrid and the ministers pay tribute to the Australian soldiers from WWI who died in Belgium (Anzac Memorial) (© FPS Foreign affairs).
While an economic mission primarily focuses on business contacts, diplomatic and cultural relations are certainly not forgotten. Belgium and Australia have always been close partners and think highly of each other. Indeed, one thing that the two countries have in common is their role as advocates of a rules-based international order, of multilateralism, of human rights and of the rule of law.
Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, therefore took the opportunity to meet her Australian counterpart, in addition to the Australian Minister of Trade and Tourism. Princess Astrid and the ministers also spoke with the governors of Victoria and New South Wales, the two states visited by the delegation. A meeting with the Governor-General of Australia was also on the agenda. In Australia, the states play a very important role economically.
Relations between Belgium and Australia have been especially close since Australian troops took part in World War I. Some 300,000 Australian volunteers came to fight on Belgian soil and 13,000 of them lost their lives. The Australian troops helped make it possible for Belgium to remain an independent and democratic country today. Princess Astrid and the ministers then paid tribute to the fallen soldiers at both the Anzac Memorial in Sydney and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
The visit to the world's 12th-largest economy clearly paid off. In turbulent years such as these, a small and vulnerable country like Belgium needs to focus more extensively than ever on maintaining robust partnerships and an ambitious trade and export policy.
Compared to its neighbouring countries in particular, Belgium certainly manages to achieve a great many results with relatively limited resources. It has successfully achieved this thanks to the joint efforts of our embassy in Australia and the headquarters of our FPS in Brussels, the Foreign Trade Agency and the three regional trade agencies FIT (Flanders Investment & Trade), hub.brussels (Brussels Invest & Export) and AWEX (The Wallonia Export and Investment Agency).
Follow our FPS's social media channels for a behind-the-scenes look at this and at Belgium's forthcoming economic missions: