Trade ties remain strong
Hong Kong and the mainland prove important business partners for a European nation facing its own political tests, writes Nick Walker
Belgium is made of two distinctive linguistic and cultural regions and this year, for various reasons, French-speaking Wallonia and Flemish-speaking Flanders have not co-existed as harmoniously as one might expect of this nation famous for its modernity, orderliness and liberal traditions.
'Our country has been in the headlines for some time as efforts to form a new federal government have been under way for a few months,' explained Belgium Consul General Michel Malherbe.
'As often in the past, democracy is slowly but surely at work, and I trust that in the best Belgian tradition, the spirit of compromise will soon result in the right leadership.'
Despite the political fissures in Brussels, Mr Malherbe said the caretaker federal government was quietly ensuring continuity and that the regional governments, covering most of the economic, trade and investment fields, were working in top gear.
He highlighted the business as usual prognosis from an international angle. 'Belgium is playing its role. Just one among many examples, in 2007 and 2008, it is a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations.'
Newly posted here after serving in Beijing and Singapore, Mr Malherbe is encouraged by the broader picture and particularly his country's robust trade ties with Hong Kong and the mainland.
'Last year, Belgium's exports to China grew steadily to Euro2.85 billion [HK$32.4 billion], while imports from China amounted to Euro9.9 billion.
'Belgium's exports to Hong Kong reached Euro1.94 billion and its imports from Hong Kong topped the Euro745 million mark.'
These strong trade ties reflect the fact that Belgium and Hong Kong, despite their modest populations (Belgium's being bigger by only 3million), punch high above their weight in world trade terms.
'With only 0.2 per cent of the world population, it is one of the major trading countries in the world. With almost 3 per cent of world exports it is the 11th-largest exporter and, with 2.6 per cent of the world imports, it is the 12th-largest importer,' Mr Malherbe said.
'It remains your ideal partner thanks to its strategic location in Europe, its flourishing economy, with stable growth, and the unwavering confidence of consumers and investors.'
And in Hong Kong, the Belgium-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, led by its chairman Jean-Paul Cuvelier and general manager Nathalie Collard, is an active and committed member of the community.
One of the most memorable events of the year was the chamber's gala dinner in June, with the Community Chest as its beneficiary, to welcome visiting Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde, who were at the head of a trade mission of almost 170 companies and financial institutions.
The Belgian Club, and its dynamic team, play an important role for the 700 members of the community in Hong Kong.
They can proudly look back on these increasing trade and investment flows between Hong Kong and Belgium. 'Belgium was the first European country to offer the benefits of a treaty to avoid double taxation with Hong Kong,' Mr Malherbe said.
'As a result, many Hong Kong companies are focusing on Belgium as an investment location and a location for holdings and financial centres for their non-Asian business as the treaty offers them substantial tax advantages.
'Under the terms of the agreement companies based in Belgium will, under certain conditions, be able to repatriate dividends, interest and royalties to Hong Kong at a zero or low rate of withholding tax.
'Companies are exploiting this tool to the full, which visibly benefits not only the bilateral ties between Belgium and Hong Kong but, through the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement [Cepa] preferential schemes, those with the Pearl River Delta as well.'
November is the month in which Belgium celebrates its King's Day and King Albert II is a sturdy reminder of Belgian continuity amid turbulent times in this relatively young nation.
Born in 1934, he is a constitutional monarch. He succeeded his elder brother, Baudouin I, as king, taking the constitutional oath in 1993, and at the age of 59, became the oldest king in Belgian history to ascend to the throne.
Before his accession he was known as the Prince of Liege, a title created for him the day after his birth. He also served in the Belgian Navy from 1953 to 1958.