VANCOUVER — Western Canada and Belgium can work together to strengthen both economies by opening doors to their trading partners, say members of a trade mission from the European nation.
"What we want, and what your government wants too, is to diversify," said Raoul Delcorde, the country's ambassador to Canada.
A trade delegation of 228 people - including a Belgian royal - has started a week-long visit to British Columbia and Alberta in an effort to promote Belgian companies and establish ties to other markets, including Asia.
Belgium already invests billions of euros in Canada every year and there's room to grow, he told reporters on Friday.
"The trade is there, the investment is there. But the opportunities need to be even more explored in Western Canada where we have, perhaps, been less visible."
That will change this weekend, when the trade mission lands in Vancouver. The group includes Belgium's foreign affairs minister, representatives from more than 100 companies and Princess Astrid.
While in Vancouver they will visit the aquarium, which uses projectors made by Belgian audio visual company Barco, and hear about EXMAR, a Belgian marine engineering company working on an LNG project near Kitimat.
They will also meet B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and take part in seminars examining business and investment opportunities stemming from the Canada-EU trade deal.
Belgium is home to Brussels, the capital of the European Union, and Antwerp, one of Europe's largest ports, making it a strategic access point to European markets.
In recent years, the Belgian economy has moved away from manufacturing and toward creating pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals, Delcorde said.
"You also have niches," he said, noting expansion in the electronic and film industries. "I mean, it's not just beer and chocolate, obviously."
Belgian businesses had been asking their government to strengthen ties with Western Canada, said Marc Bogaerts, director of the Belgian Foreign Trade Agency.
"Coming here means that there's a lot of importance to companies, that they see a lot of opportunities," he said.
The trip has been touted as a way to open markets in Asia to Belgian businesses through co-operation with B.C. companies.
The partnerships will open European markets to Canadian companies, too, said Bart Schobben, Belgium's trade commissioner to Western Canada.
"Europe is a pizza. You have a pizza, you have mushrooms and onions and bacon and all that stuff. In Europe, you still have Germans and French and Dutch," he explained. "You have to know how to deal with those differences."
Several companies in the film and food industries from both countries are expected to sign agreements during the trip that include pledges to help each other work in other regions.
Belgium and B.C.'s governments are forging new bonds as well. On Monday, the provincial government is set to sign an agreement to increase trade and investment with the Brussels regional government.
Commissioners will be appointed for each government who will work to develop concrete partnerships, Schobben said.
"(The agreement) is a description of what potentialities each region has," Schobben said.
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