Concerns about foreign trade missions

The proposal by the new Flemish Government to half the number of foreign trade missions led by Princess Astrid has met with protest from the small business federation Unizo. The daily 'De Standaard' reports that Unizo believes that the missions are of great importance for small and medium-sized businesses.

Belgian companies often sign contracts with new foreign partners during the trade missions. Unizo's Gijs Kooken told the paper that "The trade missions form and important plank of the export strategy of number of small and medium-sized businesses."

"The missions make it possible to export more especially to markets that would otherwise remain closed."

Unizo adds that it is important that a member of the Royal Family is present during trade missions. "We see that this opens doors that otherwise would have remained closed and that it makes making high-level contacts easier."

Unizo hopes to meet with the Flemish Government as quickly as possible to try and persuade it not to cut the number of foreign trade missions.

Flanders can't decide unilaterally

The trade missions are organised by the Federal Bureau Agency that has a budget of 5.5 million euro. The federal state picks pays 2.75 million euro with the regions paying the remaining 50%.

Flanders pays around two-thirds (1.6 million euro) of the 2.75 million euro paid by the regions to the Federal Bureau Agency to organise trade missions.

This is two the amount paid by Wallonia and seven times the amount paid by the Brussels-Capital Region. As Flanders puts up the lion's share of the funding any decision to cut funding for trade missions by the Flemish Government would have a big impact.