“Trade Mission to Saudi Arabia does imply support for the regime there”

In March an economic mission will set off from Flanders to Saudi Arabia. The mission is not being organised by the Flemish Government, but by the government-funded foreign trade agency Flanders Investment and Trade. Neither the Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois (Flemish nationalist), nor Claire Tillekaerts of Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT) see any ethical issues arising from the mission. “This is a purely economic mission and we won’t be expressing any political views FIT says.      

Last year, Mr Bourgeois’ Flemish nationalists were virulent in attacking the Saudis’ human rights record, when the country was given a seat on the UN Commission for Women’s rights. Mr Bourgeois said at the time that the Flemish Government would organize no further economic missions to the country. Saudi Arabia has a poor human rights record, is playing a big role in the war in Yemen and was involved in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.        

The news that FIH has organised a trade mission to Saudi Arabia first appeared in articles in dailies ‘Het Nieuwsblad’ and ‘De Standaard’. Mr Bourgeois (photo below) has no objections “This is a decision that was taken autonomously by Flanders Investment and Trade at the request of companies for a purely economic mission”, the Flemish Prime Minister’s Spokeswoman told journalists. She added that the companies involved are for areas of the economy that make products that are “quite innocent” in their use.    

“The Prime Minister is not involved and as such has remained consistent”.

Mr Bourgeois has no plans to put the brakes on the mission.  

Claire Tillekaerts of Flanders Investment and Trade told VRT radio that the mission to Saudi Arabia is just one of 100 that FIT organizes each year. The mission is being organized in collaboration with the Walloon and Brussels foreign trade offices. The mission differs from the trade missions led by Princess Astrid as only businesspeople and civil servants from the foreign trade offices will be going and no politicians will be present.       

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