Special Report: Belgian economic mission set to bolster trade ties with Thailand

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Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium is scheduled to lead a 200-member delegation to Thailand on Sunday in a week-long trade mission aiming to strengthen bilateral trade and investment.

The crown prince and his wife, Princess Mathilde, will visit the kingdom during March 17-22 as royal guests of Their Majesties the King and Queen, marking the 145th anniversary of the establishment of Thai-Belgian relations. They will be granted an audience with Their Majesties on the last day of the visit.

During the visit, the Belgian economic mission will visit sites in Bangkok and the Map Ta Phut Industrial zone in Rayong province, which houses many Belgian companies and manufacturing plants. The field visit to the industrial estate is aimed at illustrating the economic success of the current Belgian-Thai cooperation.

It is expected that the signing ceremony of the Joint Plan of Action for Thai – Belgian Cooperation, which will be the framework of cooperation between the two countries, will be held during the visit of His Royal Highness Prince Philippe. According to Belgian ambassador to Thailand Marc Michielsen, the ceremony will be followed by the decoration of four Thai nationals by the crown prince in a bid to honour their years-long efforts to enhance bilateral ties.

The economic mission is the first in 12 years, with 170 Belgian executives from more than 100 firms participating. The royal entourage includes leading businessmen who show a keen interest to widen their business engagements in Thailand on alternative and clean energy, health service and medical supplies, agro-industry and food, infrastructure and logistics.

The business delegation is expected to take part in a variety of information sessions which include a cross-cutting analysis of Thailand’s business environment and a keynote address on possibilities of doing business from Thailand in neighbouring countries.

The visit is on the eve of Thailand’s entry into negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union. The envoy said the FTA is set to increase bilateral trade in both goods and services and investment through negotiations as it opens up opportunities for EU exporters and investors to expand their business into key markets. He cited the successful EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement as an example, which in the first 9 months of implementation saw EU exports to South Korea increase by €6.7 billion or 35%.

Mr Michielsen added that European countries are expected to bolster their Thai foothold ahead of the formation of ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. He said that as Thailand boasts for its strategic location as the gateway of EU to ASEAN, members of Europe’s private and public sectors are keen to explore possibilities of enhancing their business in the region.

Trade between Thailand and Belgium has grown steadily, reaching more than 2 billion USD in 2011. Belgium was the sixth biggest investor of the European Union in Thailand during that year.