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Latest News
Malaysia-Belgium Ties Poised For Growth
News From : DagangHalal.com (11/22/2010)

Relations at `prominent stage' but still room to further develop

KUALA LUMPUR: Bilateral relations between Malaysia and Belgium have reached a prominent stage but there is still room to further enhance ties, says Belgium Ambassador Dr Frank Van de Craen.

He said relations between both countries had come a long way since 1957 when Malaya gained her independence.

Our relations (then) were more of developing cooperation, but in the 1970s and 80s, economic relations became more important.

In the 21st century, it is the central point of our relations. Apart from trade and investment, of course, the relationship is wide. We are living in a globalised world; that means we have political, economic, religious, education and many more ties, he said in an interview.

Van de Craen said Belgium's most important trading partners were in the European Union (EU) but outside the EU, Malaysia was among its top 20 trading partners.

He said bilateral trade between Malaysia and Belgium stood at RM4.5bil in 2008 but declined a bit in 2009. However, it started picking up this year especially from the Belgium side, he said.

Our export grew 45% in the first-half of 2010; we traditionally have a deficit. But, since our exports to Malaysia have started picking up, we may see a balanced trade picture by year-end, he said.

Van de Craen, whose term in Malaysia ends in January, pointed that the free trade agreement (FTA) that was launched within the Asia-Europe Meeting framework in Brussels last month would bring cheer to businesses in both countries.

The EU wanted to conclude an FTA with the regional entity but this was not possible for different reasons. So we started to focus on individual countries, he said.

The ambassador said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who launched negotiations in Brussels, wanted the FTA to be finalised between 18 and 24 months.

On challenges to Belgian businesses, Van de Craen said: Our commercial policy is no longer a sovereign independent. It has been taken over to a large extent by the trade and commercial policy of the EU.

So, we have to act together with the 27-member states of the EU.

On doing business with Malaysia, he said many European countries investing here noted that the technical expertise of the Malaysian workforce could be improved.

There is no lack of elite engineering or management skills among Malaysian employees, he said, adding that there was a definite lack of middle management technicians.

Malaysia should look into the matter by establishing more vocational schools, he said, adding that the country was an attractive investment destination.

Belgian investments were mainly in the financial sector, he said, citing BNP Paribas Group's joint-venture with Malayan Banking Bhd through Etiqa insurance.

Belgian companies are also involved in the palm oil business and a diamond operation in Kelantan.

Van de Craen said Malaysia attracted investors from the Middle East and other Asean countries, particularly in the construction sector, but suggested that Malaysia also attracted investments which created jobs in the technology sector.

He also proposed that Malaysia and Belgium tapped the tourism sector of both countries.

We have about 10,000 tourists coming from Belgium to Malaysia (annually).

This is one area we can really improve, not only from the Belgium point of view but I think a number of European countries still have not discovered the historic destinations in Malaysia, he said, adding that this would encourage people-to-people integration.

Currently, more Belgian tourists visited Indonesia and Thailand than Malaysia, he said.

- Bernama

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