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British Chamber

By Yasmine Lingemann

On Friday 28th August the British Chamber of Commerce EU & Belgium had the pleasure of hosting Sophie Maes and Sieglien Huyghe from Claeys & Engels to discuss the new changes to the Belgium temporary unemployment scheme from today, September 1st. 
The existing scheme will be split up into five new schemes for Belgian businesses to choose from. See below for a full breakdown of each scheme.

1. Corona temporary unemployment scheme valid until 31 December 2020
Conditions-
The firm must either belong to a sector that has been heavily affected by the Coronavirus OR have a minimum of 20% days of unemployment in one quarter compared with the previous quarter.

Application process-
Applicants must complete a C160A- HGO form to send to the National Employment Office (NEO) and receive a confirmation from NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify & inform employees, the Work Council/ Trade Union.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Few formalities and applicable to all workers (blue and white collars).
-Expires on the 31st of December.

2. “Normal” economic temporary unemployment scheme for white-collar workers
Conditions-
The firm must prove a loss in turnover, production or orders by at least 10% OR a reduction in employment for blue-collar workers by 10% OR sufficient recognition by the Ministry of Work as a company in difficulty.

Application process-
A new CBA or Business Plan must be drawn. The Business Plan MUST be approved by the Commission for Business Plans which takes roughly two weeks.

Formalities during use-
A C160A form must be completed together with supporting documents. 
If you have a CBA, send this to the NEO.
If you have a Business Plan, send this to the FPS.
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment.
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €5 is required.


Advantages & disadvantages-
+Possibility to regulate temporary unemployment for an immediate period of one year
+Maximum of 16 weeks for full-time workers and 26 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 2 working days per week)
-Approved Business Plan or CBA is required
-Daily supplement paid by the employer

3. New “Transitional” economic temporary unemployment scheme for white-collar worker
Conditions-
The firm must prove a loss in turnover or production by at least 10%
Offer two training days per month to employees.

Application process-
A new CBA or Business Plan must be drawn. Business Plans must be submitted to the FPS but does not need approval.
Submit a C160A form to the NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via
www.socialsecurity.be
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €5 is required.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Maximum of 24 calendar weeks for full-time worker and 34 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 2 working days per week).
+No approved Business Plan required.
-2 training day required per month.
-Only valid until the 31st of December.
-Daily supplement paid by the employer
.

4. Economic temporary unemployment scheme for blue-collar workers
Conditions-
The firm must be in economic difficulties due to an external problem e.g. The Coronavirus.

Application process-
Inform the NEO.

Formalities during use-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via: 
www.socialsecurity.be.
Communicate the economic reasons to support your application to either the Work Council or Trade Union Delegation.
Keep record in a validation book.
Deliver a C3.2A form to each employee an notify the NEO before the first day of unemployment every month.
A daily supplement of €2 is required.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Few formalities.
+Maximum of 4 weeks for full-time workers and 18 weeks for part-time workers (of minimum 3 working days per week).
+Small suspension also available for up to 12 months (of minimum 3 working days per week).
-Only valid until the 31st of December.
-Daily supplement paid by the employer.

5. “Normal” temporary unemployment scheme for force majeure
Conditions-
Unforeseen, unexpected event independent of the will of all parties.

Application process-
Notify the NEO and all employees a minimum of one week before starting date of unemployment. This can be done electronically via: 
www.socialsecurity.be.

Formalities during use-
Deliver a C3.2.A form to the employee concerned.

Advantages & disadvantages-
+Notice period is suspended.
-Case specific.


We hope that with this information, you will now find the temporary unemployment scheme that suits you and your company best.


Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. 
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register: https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events

By Yasmine Lingemann

Belgians are big savers. According to recent figures released by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), Belgians have reached a record high in average household savings, with figures reaching 290 billion euros in aggregate regulated savings accounts. On average, the household savings ratio in Belgium is 12.6%, which by comparison is just over double that of the UK, where households save 6.2% of their disposable income. Belgians have traditionally saved a lot, yet even in an era of zero or negative interest rates on savings, the lack of spending is beginning to become problematic and even a hinderance to the national economy.

Globally, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurt economies everywhere. With firms in the UK and Europe also having to simultaneously adapt and create contingency plans to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition, businesses face the situation where they need to use alternative methods to attract clients and re-establish confidence in their company. In Belgium, that means trying to encourage people to spend more and save less at the same time as rising unemployment, weakening job security, and people generally tightening their belts and restricting spending to the bare necessities.

Despite this, firms must not lose hope: Now is the time to seek new opportunities. Businesses are responding, many are offering their goods and services in a different way. In Belgium, where consumers have traditionally been less open to online commerce, increased time at home in front of a screen enables households to be more susceptible to e-commerce and advertising. Businesses must use this time to improve communication and dialogue with their clients to reestablish trust and retain brand loyalty. Getting active online and keeping your customer base up to date on changes will help businesses in the long run and hasten the adoption of a more digitalised economy.

Belgium government support has not been as forthcoming as in the UK. However there are a variety of loans and tax deferral schemes that have been put in place to weaken the damage felt by Belgian firms.

Click here for Belgium’s government website to see how your business can benefit from the support available: https://www.belgium.be/en

Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed. We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period.

See our website here for more details on how we can help you: https://www.britishchamber.be/

The practical implications of Brexit on everyday UK-EU trade is becoming clearer week by week. This week, Amazon announced changes affecting Amazon sellers, customs briefings and enquiries ramped up, and the impact on product availability and businesses started to become evident. The detail is very welcome, and helps businesses prepare further. For some, the impact will be more difficult to manage and will effect consumer choice, price and availability.

The UK government’s publication of its border operating model provided traders and logistics operators with more detailed information on the requirements for UK exports and imports. While much of the overall approach was predictable, the details of the arrangements make clear the challenges that traders will have to adapt to, and the costs likely to be incurred.

This week, retail giant Amazon announced the end of Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) for UK sellers delivering to customers in the single market (and vice-versa). Sellers will now have to divide their inventory between UK and EU-Based Fulfilment Centres to avoid losing sales in either market.

This will raise the cost of reaching customers through increased storage and transaction costs of shipping their goods to warehouses in both markets. With Amazon putting in transitional measures before 1st January 2021, sellers Christmas trade may be affected too.

As so often, it’s the detail that counts. The UK’s plan to introduce postponed VAT accounting will be a boon to the cashflow of UK importers. But some businesses are beginning to see additional unwelcome challenges. For example, fresh fruit and vegetables delivered by air from Africa to the UK and its Benelux neighbours are distributed across the region. Since these goods movements will now need phytosanitary checks at the entry point, the opening hours of phyto offices at ports and airports now become a critical factor in avoiding lengthy delays.

With the time for preparation now short, the UK government is stepping up its communications to businesses with webinars for Belgian and Irish firms this week and more to come.

With its network of expert members and the backup of its UK chambers, Britcham is there to help you. If you have questions, contact us at BusinessContinuity@britishchamber.eu

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

UK Govt – Border Operating Model: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf

The UK Government has published its long awaited border operating model. It makes clear how the border with the EU will work – at least in most cases. But some important questions remain, and the cost to business, in customs administration work alone, will be substantial. The government has responded to some key demands from British Chambers of Commerce for measures to improve cash flow. But if there’s not a deal, the cost will be higher again – and key questions remain unanswered.

While businesses will welcome more detail on processes for trading goods overseas, some questions still remain unanswered, including on trade across the Northern Ireland border and the operation of the Goods Vehicle Management System. We will continue to look at the detail and how it affects businesses over the coming weeks.

The Border Operating Model provides clarity and certainty for the border industry and businesses, including technical detail on how the border with the EU will work after the transition period and the actions that traders, hauliers, ports and carriers need to take. It covers all of the processes and systems, across all government departments, that will be used at the border. It provides clarity on the end to end journey for moving goods across the border – with information about controlled goods and new government systems that will support trade.

To help businesses prepare for these changes and continue to trade, guides on how to import and export goods are available in the form of a ‘journey’ (see below). That’s important since so many UK based companies currently trade only with the EU. They need to clearly see every step they need to take to ensure that their goods are transported successfully.

This will cost businesses money. With full border controls in place at all ports from January 1st next year, regardless of any deal that is agreed with the EU, an estimated 200 million more customs declarations will need to be made by traders annually. At a cost of £20 to £45 per declaration the cost to business could be in the region of £4bn to £9bn.

The UK government has listened to the British Chamber network and reintroduced Postponed VAT Accounting, as well as allowing the deferment of duty and VAT on EU imports for at least 6 months from January 2020.   And many businesses will appreciate the introduction of bond-free duty deferment accounts, which will provide much needed help to cashflow for businesses and reduce import costs.

Along with the European Commission’s Communication last week on preparing for the end of the transition period, it’s clear firms that import and export across the UK-EU border should take action now including the appointment of customs intermediaries and addressing approvals and certifications.

With its network of expert members and the backup of its UK chambers, Britcham is there to help you. If you have questions, contact us at BusinessContinuity@britishchamber.eu

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

Hyperlinks also below.

UK Govt – Border Operating Model: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/899991/200713_BPDG_-_Border_Operating_Model_FINAL_1320_edit.pdf

How to import and export goods between Great Britain and the EU from 1 January 2021: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-import-and-export-goods-between-great-britain-and-the-eu-from-1-january-2021

European Commission – Getting ready for the end of the transition period: https://ec.europa.eu/info/european-union-and-united-kingdom-forging-new-partnership/future-partnership/getting-ready-end-transition-period_en

Last week’s virtual summit of EU leaders discussed the proposal for a revised long term budget and EU Recovery Plan – put together by the Commission in double quick time. Much of the discussion between member states is inevitably informed by a calculation of who gets what and who pays, so it will not be easy or very quick. But the effectiveness of the EU response will really depend on how the money is spent and avoiding the temptation to create new barriers to business.

At the end of May 2020, the European Commission presented its proposal for a comprehensive reconstruction plan. 750 billion will be mobilised for the “Next Generation EU” action. In addition, the long-term EU budget 2021-2027 will be increased to a total of EUR 1.85 trillion.

The Commission says the plans will deliver resources at the scale and speed needed and focused on green and digital as engines of growth as well as increased resilience for Europe’s ‘open strategic autonomy’ model. It also emphasises the importance of avoiding fragmentation of the single market. Good to hear.

The package focuses mainly on cohesion and recovery along with a boost to Horizon Europe and more money for the planned Just Transition Fund for decarbonisation, and a new health program.

The biggest lump of cash – a new Recovery and Resilience Facility of €560 billion – will offer financial support for investments and reforms with a grant facility of up to €310 billion, and will be able to make up to €250 billion available in loans.

The scale and effectiveness of spending will be central, but it also needs broader global coordination. As pointed out by JBCE (Japan Business Council in Europe) recently, this is not just about the EU alone. So the EU’s response needs to be timely, but also coordinated wherever possible through multilateral and bilateral action. More important for the medium term, the EU’s openness to trade, ideas, innovation and people needs to be part of the answer.

The recovery plan will be based on a model of “open strategic autonomy” and there has been much made of the need to strengthen and diversify supply chains. While that’s undoubtedly true, there’s always a risk that the need to protect its people and companies can be used to push a protectionist agenda. 

That’s why it will remain important for business to make the case, loudly and persistently that recovery will be built on international cooperation and free and fair trade, as well as a vibrant single market and that Europe remains #Open4business

Glenn Vaughan – Senior Adviser

I wouldn’t say I’m an old hand at AGM’s but I’ve sat through quite a few and organised some too.  But this year was another new experience, and somewhat of a challenge – the Chamber’s first digital AGM. 

Over the last few months’ we’ve all discovered the joys of Zoom, particularly the ease of moving from one meeting to another and how good it is to be able to meet with people whatever their location.  AGM’s, however, are a very particular kind of meeting and the governance requirements impose some challenges.  They are a hybrid between a presentation and a meeting and need to allow maximum participation from all who attend.  The Chamber team did some extensive research and trialling of other platforms.  There are some fabulous webinar platforms available but the need for flexible participation pulled us back to Zoom.

So, to the Chambers 110th AGM.  We had near 100% attendance from those registered (another benefit of remote meetings) and a very interactive meeting.  It’s my observation that remote meeting platforms allow participants to contribute more, it is easier to speak and less intimidating for those who might be intimidated.  On a meeting platform there is no separation in any way between speakers and ‘audience’ and this creates a different dynamic. 

While AGM’s legally are focussed on reviewing the previous year, the current circumstances necessitate more focus on the now and the future.  Our President, Tom Parker reiterated how central the Chamber is for businesses who are active in the UK-Belgian space and after his review of the year the ‘floor’ was taken by our new CEO Dan Dalton.  Dan brings his wealth of experience as an MEP to the Chamber at exactly the right time – his stature and connections will enhance the Chamber, attract more members and give top level insight into the pivotal relationship as the UK negotiates its future trade relationship with the EU. 

We had presentations from our key committees: the EU Committee, the Future Relations Committee and the Business, Trade and Investment Committee.  There are exciting times ahead for the Chamber in all these areas and there is a key message – be involved, this is your Chamber, we represent your interests and want to understand more how we can work effectively to support your business. 

So, now the less exciting stuff – writing minutes and following up with the our new Council members.  Actually, just kidding, I love this stuff and good governance is the bedrock of effective and appropriate decision making.  It’s a privilege to be part of this and to support the Chamber and our members in these challenging times.  I hope that next year we can see each other in person and look back on a very particular time. 

Melanie Barker – Membership and Operations Manager

Our pre-COVID-19 photoshoot

The impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures have affected each of us in different ways. It’s caused health issues that have changed the lives of many, whilst others have been left unscathed. It’s also freed the time of thousands of people who’ve been placed under the furlough scheme, whilst the days of others have become substantially busier for a number of different reasons.  
However we’ve all had to learn what it’s like to stay at home, and for most of us, to work from home as well.

March 13th marked the last day that the BritCham team worked in the office. The original plan was to work from home and the situation would be assessed every two weeks – over two months later we are still working from home.

You’d be forgiven if at first you thought that we would not have much to do at the Chamber, as much of our business revolves around hosting events and facilitating networking between companies. But in reality we’ve been far busier than usual! We’ve continued to support our Members through council, by hosting various webinars, by offering opportunities for our Membership to join the webinars hosted by other Members to support businesses throughout these times of crises, whilst continuing to comment on the development of the negotiations about the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

There’s no doubt that the sudden change to the home-office was difficult at first. I struggled to maintain my productivity during the first week with distractions from my Mum wanting to chat, from my dog wanting to play, and from my mind wanting to wonder! But I’ve since found a routine that works for me and the days feel more productive now than they were during the time that I was working in the office.

Outside of work I’ve also found that there are now more hours in the day to do things that I didn’t have the time to do before. The commute would take 45 minutes before and after work, and having after work drinks would often result in doing nothing but cooking food, watching an episode of something on Netflix, and then falling asleep once I got home.

With less time wasted and less distractions, I’ve found myself having the time to read, write, and exercise more regularly and I feel better for it.

Though I hope for the restrictions to be lifted soon, I also hope that some of these good habits will stay!

Whilst gauging the wellbeing of the rest of the team is not as easy as it was in the pre-Covid era as the routine lunch time conversations or the daily catch-ups around the lunch table are not taking place, it seems as though our team all seem to be mastering the working-from-home routine, and all seem to be relatively content with the status quo. Every Thursday we have a quiz on Zoom that I’m yet to win (the questions are rubbish..), but it’s good to have a weekly catch-up outside of work.

It is strange to consider how things will be once all lockdown restrictions are lifted and when that eventually might be. You’d like to think that the quizzes that we’re having at present will take place in person as opposed to on Zoom. However, further questions spring to mind about how different things might be when we finally emerge from this: how will we be expected to greet one another if we’re not supposed to shake hands? Is the elbow tap going to stay?

One thing that’s apparent is that businesses have demonstrated their resilience to survive by adapting to the current circumstances and putting in place certain mechanisms to ensure that they’re able to continue to do their work.

This is illustrated by the fact that thousands of businesses have been able to implement a work from home policy for all staff when this would have been an absurd notion only a few months ago.

Whether you prefer to work from home or at the office the long term-effect is likely to be significant.

Geography may no longer matter when applying for roles. Having demonstrated the ability to work remotely for a company in Brussels from my home in Cardiff, what’s to stop others from applying for similar roles but establishing these living arrangements from the first day?

The technological leaps that have been taken on the masses have indicated to me how interconnected the general population, and the global business community has the potential to be.

The impacts of the lockdown may change the way companies hire people from here onwards, which is exciting! 

Still, the thought of working from home permanently is not necessarily something that’s appealing to me. I do miss the human interactions that working in an office with my colleagues brings.

Who knows what the long term impacts of this pandemic may be? All that I know is that I’m looking forward to returning to the office at some point, and I’m fed up of Zoom!

Tomos Ireland-Life – Communications Officer

There are many outstanding issues still to be negotiated as part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK, however one area where there shouldn’t be much disagreement is over the British government request to join the Lugano Convention.

There should be an overwhelming interest for both sides to keep the existing relations in this field. The consequences would be severe and very negative for businesses and consumers on both sides of the Channel should there be no agreement to continue enforcement of civil and commercial judgments.

The Lugano Convention covers cross border enforcement of civil and commercial legal judgements. It applies between the EU and Switzerland, Norway and Iceland and sits alongside the Brussels 1 Regulation rules for the EU member states.

Although the UK will not be an EFTA member, the Convention is also open to non-members, such as the UK. In addition, the existing ETFA members (Norway, Iceland and Switzerland) have all supported the UK’s accession.

The decision to support the UK’s application should not be overly controversial. It eliminates the need for multiple legal actions in different countries, and the risk that companies can’t get their assets that are in other countries. As a result, the system significantly reduces the risk of doing business with someone in another country. Once a judgment is reached under the system, enforcement is rarely contested.

Without this system in place businesses will need to calculate for potentially multiple actions in different countries, especially in cases related to assets that are in another country.

Without Lugano accession enforcement of judgments will no longer happen automatically and the result is likely to lead to the other business party challenging the judgment. This can open up multiple issues, such as whether the compensation that the first court awarded is acceptable or whether the original judgment is questioned by the enforcing court. All substantive laws as to how disputes are settled are different from one European country to another and the Lugano/Brussels system is the only way to smooth these differences over and ensure that a pan-Continental dispute settlement system can work.

Most businesses aim to reduce these risks by agreeing choice of court clauses. Brussels I and Lugano reduce the risk further by setting the rules under which the choice of court clauses are respected by all. As national laws differ on this point, without the overarching framework, there is still the risk of litigation surrounding whether the choice of court clause that you have negotiated and expected to be able to rely on, is in fact valid.

If a business ends up in litigation, much more expense is needed to solve what are essentially procedural issues (such as whether you are in the right court that has the power to solve issue). Litigation also lasts longer as there are more complex issues to be solved. In addition, the end result can still be questioned by another court, costing businesses even more money.

This significantly raises the cost of doing business and this will often have bigger impact on SMEs. Smaller companies, without large legal departments, would have to budget for costs that have not existed in Europe since the 1970s, when the first Brussels convention came into force creating the system which is now applied throughout Europe.

Consumers on both sides of the channel also risk losing out, as under this system the legal system used is based on where the consumer is based, allowing consumers to easily get legal remedy. Without this, consumers buying across borders will be at a serious disadvantage and will find it far harder to enforce their rights.

The damage will not just be inflicted on UK based businesses and consumers. Those based in the EU will also suffer significantly and needlessly if there is no agreement on this point.

All trade needs a secure legal system to underpin it. We have one which already exists, and which works well. This hugely benefits businesses and if the UK does not have access to it, it will significantly increase the cost and reduce the amount of trade that will take place between the EU and UK.

The British government has recognised the benefits which comes with staying in the system. Switzerland, Iceland and Norway want the UK in the system. We urge the European Union to recognise this and ensure that the UK can swiftly accede to the Lugano Convention. In doing so cross border trade, which already faces significant challenges post Brexit, will at least be underpinned by a common legal system for civil and commercial trade.

Daniel Dalton – CEO

As part of the VAT consequences of the departure of the UK from the EU, Belgian VAT authorities have officially communicated to business their position as to the need for UK established companies, that currently are VAT registered in Belgium via a direct VAT registration, to appoint an individual fiscal representative as a result of Brexit.

The letter of the Belgian VAT authorities confirms that UK established taxable persons will have to fulfil the VAT obligations which are imposed on all VAT taxable persons who are not established in the EU. The most significant VAT obligation is the requirement to appoint an individual fiscal representative for VAT in Belgium.

Because of the general nature of this obligation, UK established companies will no longer be able to operate a direct VAT registration as from the date Brexit will be effective, in principle 30 March 2019.

To discuss this, please feel free to get in touch with Peter Empsten (details below) and ensure your business meets this new administrative formality. Peter will also be able to share a letter from the Belgian VAT authorities outlining the change.

Peter Empsten – Head of Indirect Tax

Crowe VAT Representation 

E-MAIL : peter.empsten@crowe.be

The chamber kicked off 2019 by discussing the state of play in three different areas, welcoming high-level and expert speakers.

With Kris Dekeyser, Director “Policy and Strategy” at DG Competition at the European Commission, we tackled merger policy.  As the trends have shown the number of merger notifications submitted to the Commission has been increasing over the last years, with 2018 witnessing the highest number of notifications ever. While those were concentrated in some sectors at first (e.g. pharma), they then expanded to other sectors and will continue to increase for the coming years. To read more about this event, click here.

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Next, with Gunnar Hökmark MEP we looked at the conclusions drawn from the Banking Union. In response to the crisis, a number of initiatives were put in place (the Single Rulebook in particular) in order to strengthen financial stability, and ensure that the banking sector is safe, reliable, and better supervised for the single market. Our report on the event can be found here.

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On a totally different note, we then tackled the curious case of the Border in the Case of a No Deal Brexit with an expert panel, and learned that in the UK alone, there are up to 250,000 companies that only trade within the EU. Each one of these companies will need to consult a customs specialist in order to ensure they have the right certification when the UK begins to trade with the EU from the outside. However, a key issue lies with the amount of customs experts that exist, as it takes up to 3 years to become a fully trained and operational customs specialist. To read more about this pertinent topic, click here.

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To make sure you don’t miss out on an event in the future, visit our website to see what we have coming up.

Stay tuned for our next monthly overview!

Bernada Cunj

Head of Policy and EU Affairs

The British Chamber of Commerce | EU & Belgium

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