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By César Guerra Guerrero
Partner & Director of Trade Policy at Euraffex

The number of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have surged in the last years. It is clear that applied tariff levels and the number of comprehensive trade agreements of a country determine its readiness to constructively engage in ambitious trade treaties. For example, it is relatively easy to strike deals with Singapore or Chile, but it is completely different with Mercosur. In my view, a successful conclusion of a process depends on the political will and the real room for manoeuvre to accommodate each other’s interests.

Most of the time, governments must make important and difficult decisions to bridge gaps, especially in the final stages of negotiations. Trade negotiators have the ability to present results in a way that shows the benefits and minimises concessions to justify their decisions, so that FTAs will always prove positive in countries, or blocks of countries, that are so lined up with the free trade agenda. However, this is not exempted from partisan backfire that would normally use political arguments to prevent moving forward on the trade agenda. As long as negotiators prove that sensitivities were protected by using alternative treatments and specific non-trade concerns were addressed somehow, countries would be inclined to make hard calls to close a deal.

In the meantime, the private sector- whether on the offensive or the defensive side- is faced with uncertainty. It is difficult to know how their products are going to be treated if they are part of the final package that would solve the most difficult issues to clench a deal. The reading and identification of true red lines is crucial for governments. Stakeholders play an important role to influence this vision. Using the example of the EU-UK trade negotiations, is the level playing field a true red line for the European Union or is it just the access to British fishing waters? What are the potential trade-offs all parties can live with? The answer is communication and creativity. The private sector must be part of the solution and governments should be open for feedback as it is in their best interests. The successful outcome for business sectors and individual companies often depends on the engagement with trade negotiators and making the case with sound arguments, whilst providing reasonable alternatives to the ideal outcome.


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

The British Chamber of Commerce works with a broad range of Accredited Service Providers to bring you the best professional advice for international businesses who are in or entering the Belgian market. This series aims to give you a bit of an insight into these companies; showcasing how they can help you develop your business. British Chamber members can book a free first consultation with any of our expert advisors.

This week, our team spoke to Karelle Lambert – Senior Area Director for Europe at AWEX; the Wallonia Export & Investment Agency.

What are the top-4 questions companies looking to do business in Belgium should be asking?

 1. Why Belgium?

Belgium offers a market of 10 million consumers but our country should be considered as a launching platform for your export activities in Continental Europe.  Indeed, within 4 hour truck drive, you may reach 60 million consumers with a high purchasing power.

Belgium is a perfect assessment market. Belgium is often used a test market by large companies, such as Coca Cola or H&M, to test new products.   Considered as neutral, Belgium is the perfect location to reach European key markets.

2. What is the corporate tax level?

Nominative corporate tax level in Belgium is 33,99%.  However, due to numerous tax incentive measures, the average effective corporate tax level is  26,3%.

3. What is the availability and cost of real estate and labour force?

Belgium benefits from a cost-effective office and industrial areas market.  Belgium offers among the lowest prices in real estate in Europe.  The same trend applies for industrial building as well as for equipped greenfield lands in economic parks.  Availability of office, existing facilities and large greenfield plots is high in Belgium.

Prime education and the use of languages makes Belgium the perfect place to develop your international activities. Belgian universities and management schools, among the top worldwide ranking, offer high quality graduates on the market.

The Belgian Government has taken several measures in order to stimulate business environment:

The Tax Shift Law provides for a decrease of the employer social security contributions from 33% to 25%. Eurostat statistics already show that Belgium has a substantially lower rise of salary costs than the other countries.

As of the 1st of January 2016, the current reduction in social contributions related to first hirings were increased in two ways:

  • full exemption from employers’ contributions for the first hiring, unlimited in duration;
  • reduction in contributions for the six first hirings.

What is one emerging trend in the business/regulatory environment which you would advise companies in/entering Belgium to be particularly proactive about?

The business environment in Wallonia is enhanced through the new Marshall Plan 4.0 aiming at:

  • Considering Human capital as an asset and strengthening links between training and education,
  • Supporting the industry development, in a technological proactive perspective, including ever more and better SME’s,
  • Considering our territory as an essential resource for our economic development,
  • Supporting energy efficiency,
  • Supporting the digital innovation, integrating this new dimension within social and industrial practices.

Wallonia decided to strengthen its industrial policy and economic development through a clustering approach.  The Competitiveness clusters confirm the willingness to turn Wallonia into a competitive industrial area on a world-wide scale.  The clusters cover areas such as Transport & Logistics, Aeronautics & Aerospace, Sustainable & Eco construction, Green technologies, Energy & Sustainable development, Health & Biotech, Agro-food industry, ICT, Mechanical Engineering, Plastics processing, Digital industry.

Why is it important for new entrants in Belgium to speak with you?

Wallonia Export & Investment is the governmental organization taking care of Foreign Investors and we assure you of our total commitment to help you in your enquiries and steps to set up or develop in Belgium – Wallonia.  We may help you on different aspects including the search of real estate, information on the cash grants available in the Region, availability and costs of personnel, etc.  In short, investment and R&D grants, attractive fiscal measures, employment incentives are all available.  At any time, we may organize visits locally and have you meet key partners for your project. All our services are free of charge and treated confidentially.

If you’d like to organise a meeting with any of our Accredited Service Providers, or are interested in becoming one, get in touch with James Pearson – our Business & Trade Executive at james.pearson@britishchamber.be

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Two of our organising committees are currently in search of new chairs this summer. We’re looking for two professionals to lead our Business Development Group and our young professional’s network, Brussels New Generation. We took some time over Easter to talk to President of the British Chamber, Thomas Spiller about the importance of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation.

This summer is going to bring with it two very exciting opportunities for two professionals in our network here at the chamber. With that in mind, I wanted to emphasise the importance of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation; it can be a real boost for your personal development whilst bringing real benefits to your employers.

First of all, you’re instantly going to raise your own personal profile: it’ll be your name at the top of the list. And if your name is there, you’re also creating visibility for your company. For example, if you’re chairing a committee at the chamber, you’ll get visibility for yourself and your organisation through our various media. You’re also going to be at the speakers table for the events that you’re committee have organised which brings me to my next point: your ability to expand your network through a trusted platform.

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The British Chamber attracts the key, high level stakeholders and decision-makers in both politics and business all year round. As chair of either BDG or BNG, you’ll be hosting these individuals at our events. This is also where you’re employers can really benefit too as you’ll be in prime position to ask the questions and gain real insights that you can take away and better prepare your organisation for whatever challenges the future will bring.

Where and who these insights come from? You can lead on that. You’ll be in the driving seat to shape the agenda and put together the programme with your committee. The new BNG chair will already be inheriting an exciting programme in 2016 as we look ahead to the Strasbourg Visit. You’ll be chairing panels including MEP’s, political advisers and senior press officers. If you’re elected chair of the Business Development Group, you’ll be chairing a fast growing committee! BDG hosted 40 events in 2015 compared to 12 the year before and have the next London Visit to look forward to which last year featured Ken Clarke MP and Lord Mandelson as speakers. The committee will also be overseeing our ‘Ambassador Hosts’ series with the great support of British Ambassador to Belgium, HE Alison Rose.

Olivier & Mandy

Don’t forget that these sorts of opportunities allow you to demonstrate your leadership potential outside of your day to day role. Show your employers that you aspire to leadership and are actively trying to push yourself and find that experience yourself. Make sure you grab your opportunity and apply for a leadership role at the chamber role today!

You can read a bit about what the current chairs had to say about how they’ve benefited from their roles below:

Chairing the Business Development Group has not only offered me a unique opportunity to contribute to the continued growth of the British Chamber; the role has also provided me with extended visibility for my business as well as on an individual level. The role offers great exposure in relation to fellow chamber members and other key stakeholders in the British, Belgian and European business communities. It’s been an honour and pleasure to chair chamber activities with such interesting and diverse speakers as Lord Mandelson, Jerry Hardcastle OBE, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, and many other senior business leaders, political figures, entrepreneurs, and opinion leaders.

– Olivier Van Horenbeeck, Chair of the Business Development Group 2014-2016

Chairing the BNG has been incredibly helpful for me both from a personal and professional perspective. It has enabled me to significantly expand my network of contacts and brought me great visibility as an individual consultant but also for my company, particularly vis-à-vis senior people in Brussels. It is also the best possible training in public speaking, which for a young professional is a very useful skill to develop. Finally, I really enjoyed working alongside a great team both within the British chamber and the BNG group. It is a great role and a significant part of the Chamber’s activities towards younger audiences in Brussels.

– Amélie Coulet, Chair of Brussels New Generation 2016-2016

Internal Market Summit

2016 marks the 23rd anniversary of the establishment of the Internal Market, but how far have we actually come in integrating a fully functioning single market and what barriers still exist? To answer this question the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium brought together key political, regulatory and industry stakeholders to examine the current state of the internal market and explore the key priorities moving forward.

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Carsten Bermig, member of the cabinet of Commissioner Bienkowska, kicked off with his keynote address. He emphasised the need for reform in order to give the Single Market a boost, particularly by implementing existing regulation, improving SME access to finance, and removing unjustified barriers to the provision of services across borders. This can boost the EU economy by two percentage points or more. Bermig also offered insights into Commissioner Bienkowska’s thinking, explaining her ambition to be remembered for making things work on the ground rather than for adding new rules.

The first panel on the Internal Market for Goods witnessed an in-depth discussion between the panellists and the audience. Maria Spiliopoulou-Kaparia, Deputy Head of Unit at DG GROW charged with enforcement, emphasised the need for information and transparency, adding that the Commission is considering adopting an information collecting tool that would assist in enforcing regulation. GMOs featured heavily throughout the session, but, as Daniel Bunch, Deputy Head of Unit at DG GROW, stressed, it is difficult to act at the European level, because GMOs appear in many fields, many of which are not harmonised. Genevra Forwood of White & Case LLP argued for the Commission to return to its core task of guarding the treaties and pursuing infringements, while underlining the debilitating cost of an infringement procedure on most European SMEs. The panel was moderated by the President of the British Chamber Thomas Spiller.

The members of the second panel on the Internal Market for Services quickly established the priority of liberalising the cross-border trade in services. Jürgen Tiedje, Head of Unit at DG GROW, emphasised that the Commission would not seek to reopen the Services Directive, while Jeroen Hardenbol of Business Europe underwrote Mr Tiedje’s analysis that many barriers remain due to diverse interpretation and application of regulations on the ground. Craig Burchell of Xerox made a number of well received observations, including that the phrase ‘digital economy’ does no justice to an economy that is entirely digital, and that in the age of internet every SME is a potential multinational. Jürgen Tiedje generally agreed, but added that new regulation should leave leeway for companies that do not want to operate abroad. This panel was also presided over by Mr Spiller.

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The third panel on Enforcement of EU Law directly concerned many in the audience. Speaking under Chatham House rules, panellists included Despina Spanou, Director for Consumer Affairs at DG JUST, Karl von Kempis, Head of Unit at the Secretariat General, Nathalie Moll of Europabio, and Bill Batchelor of Baker&McKenzie. The panel agreed that legal enforcement can be improved across the board. Some panellists argued that the Commission has to be careful of losing out of sight its responsibility to look after the internal market, perhaps even assisting those member states whose resources are already stretched somewhat thin. The panel also noted that EU regulation is no longer exclusively made in Brussels by the Commission, which means associations and other stakeholders should really be talking across Europe. The panel was moderated by James Stevens, Chair of the EU Committee of the British Chamber.

Lowri Evans, Director General of DG GROW and advisor to the British Chamber, closed the Summit by asking a simple question: “Why a Single Market Strategy?” Her answer was equally succinct. The internal market has not been completed, and Europe needs to change. We must make every effort to improve the functioning of the product, services, financial and digital markets that will drive growth and job creation for years to come. Yet she also stressed that the European Commission can no longer go it alone. Every actor that agrees with the Commission’s analysis and agenda must raise their voice in support of the Single Market Strategy.

Golden Bridge

The 19th edition of the prestigious Golden Bridge Trade& Export Awards for outstanding achievements in exporting between the UK and the Belux has been won by Soudal NV from Belgium and Ignition from the UK. The Awards were presented by the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (BLCC) and the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. Awards were also won by export newcomer SYX Automations and by NMC, Projective and RWS.

This year, Soudal NV received the coveted Golden Bridge Export Award handed over by H.E. Mr Guy Trouveroy, Ambassador of Belgium to the Court of St James’s, during a glamorous gala ceremony in central London on 26 November. Soudal is Europe`s leading independent manufacturer focused on sealants, PU Foams and adhesives. Operative in four continents and 44 subsidiaries worldwide, Soudal remains a family owned company established in 1966.

Ignition won the award for British companies from Wim Eraly,Senior General Manager at KBC Bank. Ignition delivers bespoke online training solutions to some of the most successful companies in the world, including Toyota Europe, L’Oréal, and Yamaha. From their strategic hub in Belgium,Ignition have grown their international business development and results immensely and highly impressively in recent years.

Best newcomer

The award of Best Newcomer was handed out to Syx AutomationsNV. The Jury were impressed with how Syx Automations has been able to convince major UK attractions to choose their software solution over British competitors. Prestigious projects include the Shard and the National Maritime Museum. Syx Automations received its award from Glenn Vaughan, Chief Executive of the British Chamber in Belgium. Syx Automations is active in the field of leisure management software for the leisure market such as zoos, museums and theatres. Furthermore, they have headquarters in Ypres (BE) and offices in Nijkerk (NL), London (UK) and Ahmedabad (India).

Best small & medium-sized enterprises

Awards were also handed out to three successfully exportingSmall & Medium Entreprises: NMC, Projective and RWS.

NMC is a company founded in 1950 and active in the development, production and marketing of synthetic foams. Mr Jean-Claude Kugener, Deputy Head of Mission at the Luxembourg Embassy in London handed over the award of best Belgian medium-sized enterprise because the company has succeeded in a very conservative market place and has been able to increase market share further by selling directly to the end user via the internet. NMC Group realizes an annual turnover of 200 million Euros.

RWS Group received its best British medium-sized award from Thomas Spiller, Chairman of the British Chamber in Belgium. RWS is the world’s leading provider of excellent translation and language support. Eclipse Translations is a dedicated provider of translation and interpreting services and forms part of the RWS Group Commercial Translation Division. RWS Group was recognised by the Jury for their ability to successfully adapt to the Belgian market characteristics and grow their business consistently in an intensely competitive market.

Projective, set up in 2006 in Belgium, won the best small-sized company award. In less than ten years, the company has grown to a team of more than 90 project managers with local offices in Brussels, London and The Hague. Their prize was handed over by Carole van Eyll, Deputy for Economic Affairs at the Belgian Embassy. Given their consistent growth and on going development in London, the financial centre of Europe and even the world, the Jury were delighted to present Projective with this award.

“High-quality participants”

BLCC Chairman Michel Vanhoonacker said: “Even in its 19th year, the Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards, has lost nothing of its sparkle, attracting the best of the best in exporting between Belgium,Luxembourg and the UK. The UK and the Belux region are very important trading partners for each other, something which never hits the headlines sadly enough.Our combined trade exceeded that compared with of many of the newer, ‘trendy’markets such as China or India.”

See all the photos from last night’s Gala here!

Password: GB15

 

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK.

Can you tell us a little bit about what Syx Automation does?

Syx Automations delivers innovative high-end software solutions to the leisure industry. We provide the leisure market with cost-effective, integrated products that will help improve the  business operations and the guest experience. In addition to the ReCreateX software platform Syx Automations also offers access control systems, kiosks, mobile applications and IT infrastructure.

ReCreateX is available as client-server application, as well as in the cloud.

What has been your marketing strategy in the UK over the last couple of years?

We’ve been working on building brand awareness through our participation at different exhibitions aimed at the leisure industry, Media campaigns, and by promoting cooperation with first pilot clients

Why are you applying for the Golden Bridge Awards, and why do you think you should win?

As a BLCC partner since the start of our Ltd company in the UK we look at the Golden Bridge Award as a confirmation of our success in the UK market and as a recognition for all our work done so far.

As a small West Flemish SME we mainly based our UK ambition on gut feeling. We do not have the enterprise budgets for large scale market research. Growing naturally (not through M&A) takes time.

Time in which we have invested money, and will continue to do so. As we are mainly focused on the governmental tender based markets, sales processes tend to take several years (RFI / PQQ / TENDER)

Until now we succeeded in our plans. With only a handful of full time employees we managed to convince international leisure organizations such as The London Shard and Dreamland Margate, as well as large local governments (Norfolk County Council and Argyll and Bute CC)  and museums as the Royal Greenwich Maritime Museums and the Horniman museum.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK. Here we take a look at Soudal NV, and what they had to say about there moves into the UK market during their application process.

So can you give us a bit of an introduction to Soudal, what is it that you do?

Soudal NV is a leading manufacturer of sealants, PU-Foams and adhesives. The company, established in 1966 by its chairman, Mr. Vic Swerts, remains family owned. Soudal is a strong brand all over the world. It serves professionals in construction, retail channels and industrial assembly with end-users in over 130 countries worldwide. With 14 manufacturing sites on 4 continents and 45 subsidiaries worldwide, Soudal ensures optimal technical and logistical support. Innovative solutions in energy-efficient construction as well as versatile bonding solutions in construction, are examples of how Soudal supports its growth.

What has been your marketing strategy in the UK over the last 3 years?

Focus on specific market segments for example: the window installation market, roofing market, builders merchants. We have been researching on-site product application to pinpoint improvement and innovation opportunities and to develop & implement plan (incl. Point-of-Sales support).

Why are you applying for the Golden Bridge Awards, and why do you think you should win?

Soudal has invested in people, product development as well as marketing in order to build a solid position as a reliable supplier to the UK construction and Do-It-Yourself industry. Over the years, the Soudal brand has earned a position in UK hardware channels, at builders merchants and in retail stores. It has not been easy to cater for the UK construction market, which makes the result even more appreciated, especially by the Soudal UK team in Tamworth. But strong growth over the last decade demonstrates the high level of acceptance by the UK market.

Soudal has built a high degree of integration into the UK market, with an array of products specifically designed for the UK market. This has only been possible with a dynamic team of people in the UK that have worked hard with the product development team as well as production people in Belgium. The UK team has deepened the Soudal presence in the market by building close relationships with customers in a growing number of market segments. Soudal has an impressive track record of international growth and the development in the UK is no exception. It is based on respect for the UK market and a long-term vision to implement all necessary steps for sustainable growth. The results speak for themselves but the result is by no means an excuse to reduce our ambitions in the UK. New investments are planned and will enable Soudal to target further market segments in the years to come.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK.

What specific research did you do before entering the Belgian market?

We attended seminars on ‘how to do’ Business in Belgium organized by the NL Chamber of Commerce for Belgium & Luxembourg and by UKTI. We gained a deep understanding of the legal and regulatory constraints in the Belgian market. Our Eclipse business focused on public sector procurement and gained technical market information and competitive analysis related to national and local Belgian buyers of language services. We carried out market research in cooperation with UKTI and the UK Embassy in Brussels and also through BLCC member surveys for specific market sectors (legal & financial).

We identified consumers in our main areas of expertise, such as Intellectual Property (patents), law and life sciences. We studied how their needs were influenced by regulatory requirements (such as related to patent filing, court proceedings, patient rights etc.) and adapted our offer to the identified needs for translation and information services. We also studied the division of tasks between different market players such as industry, (patent) attorneys & CROs, specific to the Belgian market, in order to better target our products and communication efforts.

Based on this research, what changes did you need to make to the services you provide to adapt to your new business environment?

We have recruited Dutch and French speaking Business Development Managers, Account Managers and Project Managers for the Belgian market. We provide free local telephone and fax numbers for making contact with us. We have created Dutch and French localized versions of marketing collateral and of website (Eclipse) and portals which clients are now increasingly using for ordering and monitoring translation and patent filing orders. Since we are selling a service, a very personal approach adapting to the Belgian way of doing business in which personal contact and mutual confidence is very important, with regular visits to potential and existing clients We provide locally certified translations and have access to translators capable of translating localized translations for the Belgian market as well as local suppliers for translation and proofreading with knowledge of local context and terminology. A European Affairs Division was created to manage our contractual relationships with European bodies and institutions. We have recruited in-house Dutch and French translators and interpreters and accommodated for local office hours and different holidays.

How do you plan to develop and further your business in Belgium?

We aim to increase PR activities with focus on the Belgian market working together with BLCC and BCCB and other relevant organisations, giving us more exposure to potential buyers of translation, interpreting and related services. This will also be supported through the use of digital and social media platforms (such as twitter, LinkedIn etc.).

The use of portals for ordering and monitoring ongoing orders as well as ordered volumes per category over time has become increasingly important. We will increase our efforts to adapt them to the Belgian market and to provide onsite and webex-based training sessions explaining the use and benefit of all the portal functionality. We will continue to screen and selectively target public sector procurement of translation and interpreting services.

More interaction and touch points with existing clients and new prospects will be generated through increased digital marketing and through new lead generating activities; using for example Flanders Investment & Trade and AWEX sources of information will be used to identify companies that are looking to engage in export market visits by country and by industry.

We will aim to increase the number of market visits and our attendance at local exhibitions, for example the Trends Investment Summit in Brussels, the Knowledge for Growth conference organized by FlandersBIO and the annual IBJ/IJE conference. We will seek to engage local sales, account, project management and production resources.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

London Visit report - Mandelson

This week, James Pearson – Business and Trade Executive at the British Chamber gives us a report of the goings on at this year’s London Visit at the start of the month. The Visit included keynote speeches from Lord Mandelson and Ken Clarke MP!

On 9 and 10 November, the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium brought a delegation of members over to the UK for our first annual London Visit. With the outstanding support of our official Knowledge Partner, FleishmanHillard UK, we had a full two-day programme lined up with promising topics and speakers, and it did not disappoint.

Members were warmly welcomed by Jim Donaldson, Senior Partner & Managing Director of FleishmanHillard UK. Our first session was with the Rt Hon Lord Peter Mandelson who presented an overview of the future of Europe. He covered his top three areas of concern for Europe and the activities of the newly formed Britain Stronger in Europe. Mandelson looked at the pitfalls the current government could fall into during the campaign and also the impact that media have had and will have in the future.

We were hosted for lunch in the Houses of Parliament by the often candid Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP, who engaged in a frank discussion about the internal politics facing the Conservative Party as we begin the long run up to the UK Referendum. The need for rational arguments versus emotional messaging to reach voters came across from the delegates and the speaker in order to shape the debate with the general public. After lunch, we had a tour of the House of Lords and subsequent introduction to the life of a parliamentarian, hosted by Mark Pawsey MP.

Our pre-dinner panel debate, chaired by Sir John Grant, involved voices from both sides of the referendum aisle: Alex Story (Business for Britain) and David Henderson (Business for New Europe) with their top three arguments for their own case. Not a topic to finish in an hour, this spilled into the dinner where journalist and guest speaker Julia Hartley-Brewer kept the conversation alive with personal and often highly entertaining observations about the UK debate and some of the key political figures involved.

The visit’s second day, hosted by FleishmanHillard at their brand new Bankside offices, started with a broader overview of the political landscape in the UK, with James Frayne from Policy Exchange. The referendum issue still a natural part of this conversation, including a discussion on the ideal versus realistic timing of holding the referendum, the session also covered power devolution to UK cities and regional autonomy, public finances, and digital business trends. Frayne’s remarks neatly bridged the Westminster-focused first day with the second day’s more tech-focused programme.

We then heard from Guy Levin (Coalition for a Digital Economy) and David Blake (Tech.London), who spoke about digital economy trends. This included a discussion on whether companies built for success in the 20th century would still be able to make it in the 21st century, and an analysis of the increasingly harder-fought battle for customer interface. The session further touched on the current and desired support for tech start-ups from Westminster, including whether tax breaks actually work as an incentive for fostering successful entrepreneurs. Finally, Guy and David discussed what cities need to do to emulate London’s success as a tech start-up hub and the need for sector specialization at a city level.

After lunch, we went into a discussion on longer and better living with Diarmaid Crean from Public Health England and Daniel Ryan from Swiss Re. From the perspective of a public health organisation and an insurance company, respectively, they gave us fascinating insights into the digital tools being developed and adopted to incentivise consumer behaviour towards healthier living. They discussed the importance of gamification, quality control issues with third-party mobile apps, and to what extent consumer data protection versus full data accessibility for organisations works in favour of the consumer.

Our final session was on future cities. Ben Lucas from the City Growth Commission presented interesting cases of UK cities who have become smarter in different way, and how cities who would previously have considered themselves fierce rivals have come together to cooperate over urban development initiatives. Ian Mihajlovic from Thriev gave us a tech start-up perspective from a business aiming to change city mobility through the UK’s first all-electric chauffeured service, while Joe Dignan from the Future Cities Catapult introduced us to the work of this government-supported centre aiming to develop smarter cities. The discussion focused on city case studies and what incentives drive cities to become smarter, as well as more macro-level structural issues to be addressed, e.g. skills gaps and labour market economics. The session closed on the note that cities are now more dominant than ever and that this trend will only continue in the years to come.

We then closed the London Visit programme with a reception on FleishmanHillard’s rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the London skyline.

From the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, we would like to thank all the speakers for their stimulating and though-provoking contributions, and the delegates for their highly engaged participation in the discussions. Last but certainly not least, we want to thank FleishmanHillard UK for their great hospitality and support in pulling an excellent London Visit programme together.

Stay tuned for updates on our 2016 visit plans!

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK.

Please provide a short history of your business in the UK (including why you chose to enter the UK market at the time you did):

At a time when consulting firms felt the brunt of the crisis – with profits under pressure and external consultant spending slashed – Projective continued expanding internationally with an office in London. With London being one of the world’s leading financial centres, it was a logical step to expand into the UK market, given that Projective specializes in delivering project and program management services to the financial services industry only. Projective entered the UK market in 2011. In 2015, the London staff grew from 12 to 25 full-time employees. The UK activity started as an extension of the work in Belgium, but it immediately became clear that the large market and the well-conceived Projective brand created more opportunities. We currently provide services to many tier 1 global banks and global insurers in the UK. We have proven to have a sustainable business model in a very difficult market and want to further grow this in the future. Projective has the ambition to further expand in the UK to cope with the increasing client demand, so attracting top quality resources remains key.

What are your future plans for business development in the UK?

We want to attract more resources to better serve clients and guarantee a 100% match with the client demand. The strategy to do that is twofold: Job site and CSR. Projective has been working on a job site for the last months. This career site is one for all Projective offices, and special attention has been given to a ‘UK touch’. On the career site, extra focus has been paid to diversity, a major cultural difference between the UK and the continent. This is a key element in attracting the right profiles and working on your employer brand.

Corporate social responsibility through actual business practices, ‘extracurricular’ activities such as charitable donations, or staff volunteering projects, is much more important in the UK. In Belgium, Projective set up a partnership with ‘Plan België’, an independent child NGO. Instead of just transferring money, Projective assisted Plan België with their finance transparency charter, which enabled them to raise more funds. For the general brand awareness, Projective is looking for similar projects in the UK.

Why are you applying for the Golden Bridge Awards, and why do you think you should win?

Projective is a niche player providing top quality services. On average, our project managers can draw on more than ten years of experience. This provides us with the confidence to address the challenges and demands of the marketplace regardless of complexity or scale. We are not a ‘traditional consulting company’. We remain entirely neutral and independent, while delivering the client’s agenda by working seamlessly with multi-disciplinary, multi-vendor, mixed resource teams.

Our flat organisational structure encourages all employees to build and grow themselves and Projective as a company, by getting involved in areas such as marketing, HR, finance or IT support. This means that the team is continuously stimulated and highly motivated, and this certainly contributes to the company’s success. We have a team-based approach where we share our experiences and collaborate to address our client’s challenges.

Projective has grown substantially in the UK over the past 4 years. The UK market is now the second most important market for our company. For our staff, the award would be an acknowledgement of the hard work that they have put into growing the company in the UK and for our clients, proof of their trust and confidence in Projective.

The Golden Bridge Awards will provide recognition of our success in the UK and enables us to enhance our image in both Belgium and the UK.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

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