“It’s the first country to sign social security pact with India”

Belgium, the western European country that was a founding member of the European Union, is going to open a visa office in the country in Chennai next year. It will give priority to investors and fast-track applications of long-term partners, according to Kari Van Den Bossche, Consul General of Belgium, Mumbai.

Addressing a road show on ‘Invest in Flanders, Belgium’ hosted here on Friday by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Madurai Zone, he said that the Belgium consulate in Mumbai processed 45,000 visas a year and was the second busiest in the city.

With US$ 90 billion-worth of trade, the European Union, he said, was India’s second largest business partner and Belgium was second within the Union, coming behind only Germany and ahead of the U.K. Its port of Antwerp witnessed the biggest world trades in various sectors ranging from rough diamonds, over 1,000 brands of beer to chocolates.

Free Trade Agreement

“India and the E.U. are negotiating a free trade agreement which, once signed, will drastically reduce the tariffs of a range of products. Businesses in India should press the issue with the Central government and call for its expeditious completion.”

Indian companies already have a presence in Belgium with over five banks located there along with Indian logistics and IT companies.

The importance Belgium attaches to India, Mr. Kari Van Den Bossche said, could be gauged by the fact that it was the first country to sign a Social Security Agreement which significantly reduced costs for Indian companies appointing expatriates in Belgium.

While the E.U. was undergoing a crisis, he noted that it originated from the U.S. as a bank crisis that escalated into an economic crisis and was now hurting Europe as a sovereign debt crisis.

The solution, he said, was faster and stronger integration of E.U. entailing fiscal, banking and a political union.

The country’s capital of Brussels was also the political centre and de facto capital of European Union hosting all its important institutions where the rules are made and was also the home to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) headquarters.

Tier-II cities

Speaking earlier, Jayant Nadiger, Trade Commissioner of Flanders, Belgium, said that the road show was focusing on tier-II and III cities with the current one starting off from Mangalore, passing through Chennai to Madurai now.

Filippe Depotter, Invest Project Manager, Flanders Investment and Trade, Belgium, said that globally, Belgium attracted the third highest foreign direct inflows, after the U.S. and China owing to its proximity to European markets and its infrastructure.

Benoit Heyse, Tax Manager, Grant Thornton, Belgium; Sridhar V, Partner, Grant Thornton, India; Werner Van Decruyssen, Customs Attache, Belgium Embassy; T. Johnson, managing director of the Tuticorin-based St. John Freight Systems that has a presence in 15 countries, including Belgium; and N. Krishnamoorthy, CII Madurai Zone, spoke.

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