Diplomatic relations between India and Belgium were established in 1948 and our bilateral relations are cordial and friendly. In recent times, Belgium has acknowledged the growing importance of Asia and has emphasised the value of strengthening economic relations with India.
Recent High Level Visits
Recent high-level visits to India include those by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and European Affairs, Mr. Didier Reynders to India from 02 to 12 August, 2012; by Crown Prince Philippe (20-27 March 2010) leading a 350 plus member economic mission; by The King of the Belgians, Albert II, from 3-12 November 2008 accompanied by Queen Paola, the then Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht and a sizeable academic and business delegation; and by the then Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt from 2-7 November 2006. Visits at high-level from India in recent times include that by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textile, Shri Anand Sharma from 24-26, June, 2012; Minister of State, Smt. Preneet Kaur to Brussels from 15-19 April, 2012; Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Brussels from 9-11 December 2010, which was also the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister since 1978; by Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari to Brussels from 3-5 October 2010 to attend the ASEM 8 Summit, during which he briefly interacted with the King of Belgium and held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Yves Leterme; and, visit by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to Belgium from 10-12 November 2006 to inaugurate the TEJAS Exhibition, the central theme of the Festival of India (October 2006 – January 2007). Several Ministerial and official level visits have also taken place on both sides in recent years.
Bilateral Treaties and Agreements
The agreements signed and in force between India and Belgium are as under: Social Security Agreement in November 2006 (came into force in September 2009); Agreement on cooperation in the field of Science & Technology, signed in November 2006; Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation (DTAA), signed in August 1997; Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement (BIPA) signed between India and Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU) in November 1997; Cultural Agreement of September 1973; and Air Services Agreement of April 1967.
Economic and Trade Relations
Belgium is one of India’s important trading partners in the EU. Trade in gems and jewellery constitutes around 70% of bilateral trade. India’s Information Technology sector is well represented in Belgium, with all the big IT companies having their establishments. Several Indian companies in the chemicals sector have also established offices/warehousing facilities in Belgium, particularly near the port city of Antwerp. Belgian business interests in India cover dredging, chemicals, engineering goods, banking and finance, electronics and software, fertilisers, and biotechnology.
Belgium is the second largest trading partner of India in the European Union with annual bilateral trade of € 13.3 billion in 2011. India was the 5th largest exporter to Belgium and 2nd largest importer of Belgian products in 2011. The major items of Indian exports to Belgium are: gems and jewellery; minerals, base metals and articles, chemicals and chemical products, textiles; machinery, mechanical products and electrical equipments. The major items of Indian imports from Belgium are Gems & Jewellery, Machinery and Mechanical Products, Base metals & articles, Chemical & Chemical etc.
Belgium has emerged as the 23rd largest investor in India and the 9th largest within the EU, but the total FDI in India from Belgium is still relatively small, being less than 0.3% of the total. The cumulative FDI inflows from Belgium into India amounted to US$ 450.69 million from April 2000 to December 2011. In the recent past, Indian investment in Belgium has exceeded investment by Belgian firms in India, mainly by way of acquisition of Belgian firms by Indian companies. Several Indian companies, particularly in the IT and software sector, have established base in Belgium to cater to the Belgian as well as European markets.
Economic Joint Commission Meeting
The Economic JCM between India and BLEU met in Brussels on 4-5 May 2009 after a gap of eight years. More recently, the 12th JCM took place in New Delhi on 15 April 2011, where both sides discussed market access issues, cooperation in civil aviation and aerospace sector, renewable energy, IT, recognition of certificate of competency of sailors, interest of Belgian businesses in the infrastructure sector, and progress in the revision of DTAA.
A Global India Business Meeting was organized by Horasis in Antwerp on 24-25 June, 2012. The official delegation led by Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textiles, Shri Anand Sharma, along with 300 business leaders, participated in the event. Belgo-Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BICC&I) organised an India-Belgium CEOs round-table on 26 June, 2012, with 30 CEOs from India and Belgium participating. The Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) held its annual event ‘India Calling Conference 2009’ in Brussels from 30 September - 2 October 2009 in partnership with Belgo-Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BICC&I) and Europe India Chamber of Commerce (EICC). The event was jointly inaugurated by the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs and the Belgian Foreign Minister on 30 September 2009. An India-Belgium business meeting, ‘Brilliant India’, was organised in Brussels on 9 December 2010, on the occasion of the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. Leading businesspersons from both sides participated in the event, which was presided over by the Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Shri Anand Sharma, and the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Steven Vanackere. An India-EU Business Forum was organised on 12 October 2011 in Brussels by the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata, with a focus on the North Eastern states of India. It was inaugurated jointly by Belgian Minister of Economy Mr. Vincent Van Quickenborne and Minister of Urban Development Shri Kamal Nath.
Science & Technology cooperation
A framework agreement for cooperation in Science and Technology was signed during the visit of the Belgian Prime Minister to India in November 2006. Under this agreement, an India-Belgium Joint Committee on S&T has been set up. It has met twice, first from 25-27 June 2007 in Brussels, and then on 13 April 2011 in New Delhi. At the second meeting, progress in cooperation was noted in the field of astronomy, where a DOT 3.6m telescope being built in Nainital (India) with Belgian assistance is expected to become operational by November 2012. Measures to encourage networking of research groups and to identify areas of mutual interest in the field of research were identified. Joint workshops are also proposed to be organised, commencing 2012, to facilitate information exchange between scientific communities on both sides. India and Belgium also have an MoU on cooperation in space technology, which was signed between the two sides in November 1998. A Belgian satellite was also launched by India in 2001. An MoU between BARC and SCK – SEN has been signed in June 2012 covering cooperation in management of nuclear waste, geological disposal technique, advance research reactor systems and collaboration in the context of INPRO project of the IAEA.
To commemorate the memory of sacrifices made by thousands of Indian soldiers in Flanders during World War I, an Indian Memorial Pillar which was installed alongside the Menin Gate in Ieper was rebuilt and reinstalled at the same site in 2010. The local authorities organise ceremonies at this pillar as part of Armistice Day celebrations on November 10/11 every year. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), in association with the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, organised an India Festival from October 2006-January 2007. The festival included, inter alia, art, theatre, musical and dance performances, fashion shows and a food festival. India has also agreed to be part of the Europalia cultural festival in Belgium in 2013-14.
Indian Community in Belgium
According to information received from the local Government, the total number of Indians up to the year 2006 were around 16,132, of whom nearly 10,000 had obtained Belgian citizenship. Around 2,500 NRIs/PIOs are based in Antwerp, mainly from Gujarat, and are involved in the diamond trade. The proposal for dual nationality for Belgian PIOs/NRIs has been agreed to by GOI. There are around 500-1000 Indian students pursuing studies in educational institutions of Belgium.