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. Over the last three years, exports of Belgian goods to Canada have increased significantly, moving from a deficit in 2016 to a comfortable trade surplus in favour of our country in 2018 and 2019. With regard to trade in services, the bilateral exchanges are quite balanced. At the end of 2018, Belgium’s direct investment in Canada totalled approximately €5.2bn.
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 transatlantic relationship with the United States of America, together with European integration and a preference for multilateral cooperation, is one of the cornerstones of Belgium’s foreign policy. 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.
“America first” and 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 also as a main strategic rival because China propagates an alternative political system and model of society that is fundamentally different from ours. President Donald Trump is convinced that the best way for the US to defend its interests is to rely on its own economic and military power. The US takes a critical look at multilateral cooperation, alliances and other forms of Soft Power. The transatlantic alliance remains as useful and relevant as before, both for the US and for Europe, but when it comes to the climate issue, Iran or the Middle East, for example, Washington and Brussels do not always share the same views.
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 five 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 almost ten percent. The total value of trade in goods and services between Belgium and the US amounts to almost EUR 70 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.
The relationship with Mexico, which has 120 million inhabitants, dates back to the sixteenth century. Pedro de Gante (Pieter van Gent, 1480-1572) was one of the first Christian missionaries in the New World and founded the first European school in Mexico City. Although both the Belgian community in Mexico and the Mexican community in Belgium are relatively modest, relations between the two countries are excellent.
Some eighty Belgian investors are currently active in Mexico. Among EU countries, Belgium is one of Mexico’s most important trading partners. Our trade balance with Mexico is traditionally negative. The majority of Belgian investments are located in the services sector, as well as in trade and industry. In 2015 and 2016, five regional economic missions to Mexico were organised.
Belgium and Mexico also maintain active cultural and scientific ties. Since 1990, the University of Antwerp has an Center for Mexican Studies.
The political relations between Belgium and Mexico are excellent, as evidenced by the regular official visits and bilateral contacts in the margins of international meetings. The most recent bilateral political consultations took place in Mexico in November 2016. Our monarchs met the Mexican President for the last time in Brussels in June 2015.
In addition to the federal government, Flanders (FIT) and Wallonia (AWEX) are also represented. The Flemish representation also defends the interests of Brussels Export.