TO FIND OUT more about the steadily growing Slovak-Belgian business relationship, The Slovak Spectator contacted two trade officials at the Belgian Embassy in Bratislava. Alain Decraene, trade counsellor for Flanders, and Isabella Profeta, trade counsellor for the Walloons and Brussels regions, took time out of their schedules to answer some of our most pressing questions.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What Belgian commodities does Slovakia import? What Slovak goods exported to Belgium are the most successful on the Belgian market?
Isabella Profeta (IP) and Alain Decraene (AD): According to the Belgian Statistical Office, the commodities exported from Belgium to Slovakia are mainly products from traditional industries such as metal products, machinery and mechanical appliances, electrical equipment and products from the chemical, plastics and rubber industries. The same commodities produced in Slovakia are successful on the Belgian market.
The balance of trade is generally in favour of Belgium, but it is relevant to note that exports from Slovakia to Belgium are also growing every year.
During the first ten months of 2004, exports from Belgium to Slovakia amounted to €435,06 million, up 33.43 percent from the same period in 2003. Imports from Slovakia amounted to €259.26 million and grew by 15.70 percent in comparison with 2003.
TSS: According to data from the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS), Belgium's percentage of foreign direct investment in Slovakia amounts to less than 1 percent. Where is this 1 percent directed?
IP and AD: According to the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO) FDI coming from Belgium as at March 31, 2004 exceeded 1 percent. Apparently besides some important investments,many smaller ones are not taken into account in the statistics. Some Belgian companies, such as KBC-CSOB (banking), Dera Group (food industry), Printing International, Francesca Creation (printing), Lhoist (chemical products), Samsonite (luggage), Betatex (textile) and others have been established here since the 1990s.
However, most of the major investments have taken place over the past five years. Bekaert, ACV, Carmeuse, Sky Europe Airlines, Barlo Plastics, Gilbos, Punch are just some examples.
The branches in which Belgian companies operate are various and not limited to manufacturing industry. Besides textile, food, chemical, electro-mechanical, electronic and metal products, our companies are also active in services such as banking, transport, retail and consulting.
TSS: Why do you think Belgian investment in Slovakia is weaker than other countries?
IP and AD: In Belgium, more than 80 percent of the companies are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with less than 50 employees. Many of them are first looking for partnerships with Slovak companies. They need some time before investing in brown- and green field sites. Nevertheless, more and more companies are convinced of the huge potential of the Slovak economy. Moreover, the announced incentive scheme focussing on SMEs will definitely give a better perception of Slovakia as an attractive place to invest in. The potential of Central and Eastern Slovakia has not yet been fully explored by our companies. The recent decision of the Minister of Economy to promote the creation of four further industrial parks in these areas is a positive signal to attract foreign companies.
TSS: Where do you see Belgian-Slovak cooperation blossoming? Are there any new plans or projects in the preparatory stage?
IP and AD: Besides mutual cooperation or joint ventures in traditional activities, more attention has to be paid in the new technologies and innovative sectors.
Among these, environment, waste recycling, renewable energies, information and communication technologies and new health and medical techniques are certainly of great interest for mutual cooperation. In this regard, Belgium has for many years developed industrial and science parks near universities, which has increased the potential of our economy in innovative and technologies sectors. With the Eurovalley park near Bratislava, Slovakia also intends to follow this way. The location near Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic as well as the innovative activities which will be promoted there will certainly offer good opportunities for partnerships between Slovak and Belgian companies.
TSS: Slovakia entered the EU in May, together with nine other countries. Are you optimistic about the economic future of an expanded EU? What new aspects of mutual cooperation between Slovakia and Belgium do you foresee?
IP and AD:Membership of the European Union improves the chances for countries to develop and reinforce cooperation with other partners. As you know, Belgium was a founding member and pillar of the former CECA, EEC and now EU.
Each country that has decided to join the EU has gained large benefits from being a member. In this regard, we are very optimistic about the mutual economic and trade relations between our countries in the future.
All Belgian entrepreneurs we are in contact with stress that they have been completely welcome in Slovakia and they appreciate the fair relationships that they have with Slovak representatives.
7. Mar 2005 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová