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Canada as we know it today has its origins in the British North America Act of 1867. It became self-governing in 1931. The head of state is HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented in Canada by a Governor General. After a decade of Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the 2015 elections saw Justin Trudeau’s Liberals return to power. In the October 2019 elections, the Liberals lost their absolute majority, forcing Trudeau to form a minority government.
Belgium has a special place in the collective memory of Canadians, given the role played by Canadian soldiers during the World Wars, both the First (at the "Battle of Passchendaele", among others) and the Second (notably at the “Battle of the Scheldt”). In addition, Canada takes a lively interest in developments in the area of state reform in Belgium. The Belgian community in Canada amounts to over 20,000 people (including 16,000 registered Belgians). The number of Canadians of Belgian origin is estimated to be around 200,000.
Belgium and Canada established diplomatic relations in 1939. In addition to the Belgian Embassy in Ottawa, the Belgian diplomatic network includes a Consulate General, three economic and commercial attachés and a scientific liaison officer of the Walloon Region in Montreal, bi- and tri-regional economic and commercial representatives in Toronto and Vancouver, respectively, a delegate of the French Community in Quebec City, and five honorary consulates (Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Winnipeg, and Quebec City). The Province of Quebec has a representation in Brussels.
Bilateral relations are excellent and there are many contacts, as illustrated by the state visit of our sovereigns (2018), the working visit of the former Prime Minister Charles Michel (2017) and the economic mission chaired by HRH Princess Astrid (Vancouver and Calgary, 2015). Visits by Ministers of the Regions and Communities, as well as numerous mayors (Antwerp, Ghent, Kortrijk, and Namur) have also taken place. Our two countries have concluded around ten bilateral agreements. At the beginning of 2021, a virtual meeting took place between Minister Wilmès and her then Canadian homologue François-Philippe Champagne. The two Ministers discussed current international affairs and the state of our bilateral relations.
The export of Belgian goods to Canada has increased significantly in recent years, moving us from a trade deficit in 2016 to a comfortable surplus on the Belgian side in 2018 and 2019. However, in 2020 our exports decreased by 11% and imports increased by 7%, which resulted in a modest deficit of 55 million euros on a total of 6.7 billion euros. This made Canada our 18th client and 19th supplier in 2020. As far as trade in services is concerned, the balance sheet remained broadly balanced.
Canada and Belgium share numerous objectives in terms of foreign policy and often share the same point of view in multilateral fora. Both countries defend multilateralism, respect of Human Rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Canada is therefore a very important partner and a like-minded country.
Finally, as a member of G7 and G20, as well as NATO, the Arctic Council and the International Organisation of La Francophonie, Canada is also an interesting partner. At the end of 2018, Canada signed, together with the USA and Mexico, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), successor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In 2016, it signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union (EU). Since 2017, only matters of CETA that fall under EU exclusive competence (i.e. 90% of the agreement) have entered into force. Full implementation of the Agreement will only be possible once it has been ratified by the Parliaments of the Member States.
There is a historic friendship between our two countries, centred around cultural cooperation, economic relations, academic exchanges, political dialogue, and shared values.
The United States of America
The United States is a strategic partner in defence and security and our most important trade partner outside the European Union. In addition, both countries cooperate constructively in various multilateral and regional organisations.
Friends from day one
The United States established diplomatic relations with Belgium as early as 1832, well before the final recognition of the Belgian borders by the European powers in the Treaty of London of 1839. During the World Wars, Belgium was liberated with American support. The Battle of the Bulge, the greatest American battle of the Second World War, created a special bond. The 75th anniversary of this battle was commemorated in 2019.
The post-war period was marked by strong transatlantic cooperation with the entry into force of the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the establishment of NATO in 1949. In the early 2000s, there was a period of increased tension due to Belgian resistance to the war in Iraq in 2003. From 2004 onwards, the relation went back to normal.
The rivalry with China
In the 21st century, the United States is looking more and more towards Asia. It tends to see China as an economic competitor and as a main strategic rival because China propagates an alternative political system and model of society that is fundamentally different from ours.
The United States realizes that China's rise as the world's largest economy is unstoppable but is eager to maintain its technological and military leadership. At the same time, there is awareness of the need to work with China to tackle global challenges such as climate change, public health, and disarmament.
US President Joe Biden wants to approach China from a position of strength and is therefore - unlike his predecessor - calling on allies. Those are Japan, India, and Australia, in the first place, followed by the like-minded European partners, united in NATO and the European Union. Prominent themes on the agenda for transatlantic cooperation are the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the transition to a greener economy, technological development and the defence of human rights and democracy.
A reliable partner with a good reputation
Belgium’s image is generally positive. The personal ties created by the World Wars contribute to this, as do the large number of American diplomats, military staff and businessmen who have lived in Belgium for some time for professional reasons. Brussels in particular is known as the seat of NATO and the EU. Our country is a founding member of both organisations, which gives our diplomacy a certain weight.
Belgium is a reliable NATO ally and cooperates actively with the US in the fight against terrorism and in other security issues. Although Washington is of the opinion that Belgium should increase its defence spending, it does appreciate the deployment of Belgian soldiers in the field, for example in Afghanistan, Mali, the Baltic States or in the framework of the international coalition against Daesh. The port of Antwerp is of strategic importance in the NATO context. There is also close cooperation at police and customs level, both in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
Most important trade partner outside the EU
Economic ties are also particularly intense. About 7.1 percent of Belgian exports are destined for the US. This makes the American market the fifth most important export destination after the neighbouring countries Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The US is the fourth most important supplier of goods to our country with a share of 7.2 percent. The total value of trade in goods and services between Belgium and the US amounts to EUR 65 billion annually. The trade in goods is dominated by chemical and pharmaceutical products and traditionally our country has a trade deficit with the US in this sector. On the other hand, Belgium has a slight trade surplus where trade in services is concerned. American investors in Belgium, 900 companies in total, create 124,000 jobs in our country. Conversely, around 500 Belgian companies are active in the US, creating almost 60,000 American jobs.
Belgian citizens in the United States: in the past and today
Most of the Belgian migrants who went to the United States in search of a better life arrived between the mid-nineteenth century and the beginning of the First World War. Most of them were farmers or craftsmen. At the American census of 2010, 361,667 Americans indicated that they had Belgian roots. The largest concentrations were recorded in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.
After the Second World War, mainly highly skilled workers moved to the United States. Scientific cooperation is still very fruitful today. Today, almost 28,000 Belgians with permanent or temporary residence in the USA are registered with the Belgian Embassy in Washington or our Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York. Most Belgians live in the states of California, New York, Georgia, Texas, and New Jersey. The American Embassy in Brussels estimates the number of Americans in Belgium at 23,000, tourists not included.
With a population of 123 million and an area of almost 2 million km² (64 times Belgium), Mexico is the fifteenth-largest economy in the world and the second largest in Latin America. Mexico's priority is its relationship with the United States, even though this relationship has been historically ambivalent. Both countries share a border of over 3,300 km and the Mexican community in the US is estimated at 38 million. The main sources of tension are trade, immigration, and crime. Mexico attaches great importance to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, 1994), and its successor USMCA (US Mexico-Canada Agreement, which entered into force on 1 July 2020).
Mexico resolutely opted for multilateralism in its foreign policy and was one of the founding members of the United Nations. The country was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period 2021-’22. It is also a member of the OAS (Organisation of American States), the G-20 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).
Mexico plays a leading regional role as a member of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation), the Pacific Alliance, CELAC (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) and cooperates with CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market).
The European Union (EU) and Mexico concluded negotiations on the modernisation of the EU-Mexico trade agreement on 28 April 2020. It replaces the previous one concluded in 2000 and forms an integral part of the EU-Mexico Association Agreement, a broader, comprehensive agreement that provides the framework for the EU's relations with Mexico. The treaty will enter into force after completion of the respective ratification procedures.
In the area of domestic politics, the focus has been on the fight against corruption, crime, and impunity and for greater social equality and security since President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (nicknamed “AMLO”) took office in 2018. The greatest obstacles to the implementation of these ambitions are the continuing illicit trafficking in arms, drugs, and human beings.
Bilateral relations with Belgium go back to the 19th century. Belgium and Mexico exchanged diplomatic representatives in 1838 and 1842 respectively and signed a treaty of friendship in 1861. However, after the French intervention in 1862, diplomatic relations were broken off. From 1864 to 1866, Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Belgian King Leopold I, reigned through her marriage to Archduke Maximilian of Austria as Empress of Mexico, where she was known as “Mama Carlota”. Her husband was executed in 1867, and she died in 1927 in the castle of Boechout (Meise).
Diplomatic relations between Belgium and Mexico were restored in 1879. Today, political relations are excellent, as illustrated by regular official visits and bilateral contacts in the margins of international meetings. The most recent bilateral political consultations took place in Brussels in 2018. Several multi-sectoral regional missions were organised in 2015, 2016 and 2018 as well as an economic mission, chaired by HRH Princess Astrid in February 2019.
Our two countries concluded several bilateral agreements. Belgian investments in Mexico involve around 80 companies. Conversely, 6 Mexican companies are active in Belgium. Total bilateral trade amounted to EUR 4.2 billion in 2020 (exports -15% and imports -21%) with a surplus on the Mexican side of 1.8 billion. This makes the country our 38th client and 21st supplier.
The number of Belgians in Mexico is estimated at 2,500 and Mexicans in Belgium at 1,500. Mexico welcomes up to 40,000 Belgian tourists every year. Both countries also maintain active cultural and scientific ties. Several Belgian higher education institutions have concluded collaboration agreements with Mexican counterparts and there is also an exchange of students and professors. Since 1990, there has been an Institute for Mexican Studies at the University of Antwerp. Besides the embassy and 6 honorary consulates (in Cancun, Chihuahua, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, and Veracruz), both AWEX (Agence wallonne à l’Exportation et aux Investissements étrangers) and FIT (Flanders Investment & Trade)/Hub Brussels are represented in Mexico.