European image of India has changed: Belgium PM

Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 08:00 Hrs
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Brussels: The European perception of India has changed in the past five years from that of a mere trading partner to a country that can actually invest, says Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt who arrives in India on a six-day visit Thursday.

"What we have seen in the last few years is a booming economy, the bigger role that India plays in the world political order and growing responsibilities from the Indian business community worldwide and also in Europe," Verhofstadt told IANS in an exclusive interview at his office here.

"First of all, I am going to India to intensify the bilateral relationship between India and Belgium and to see how we can work more together in a number of fields politically and economically," said Verhofstadt, who has been Belgium's prime minister for the last seven years.

"The second reason why I'm going is to show to the Indian business community what opportunities are there for them in the European market. We have a number of new instruments that can be attractive for the Indian business community," the Belgian prime minister said while alluding to the notional interest deduction his government has devised to attract foreign investment.

"And what we want to show is that Brussels or Belgium is the best gateway to 500 million consumers," Verhofstadt said as he unveiled his plan to aggressively sell Belgium as the preferred hub for Indian investment in Europe.

Verhofstadt, who became the youngest president of PVV (Flemish Liberal Party) when he was 29 years old, also spoke about a plan to liberalise the visa regime and the signing of a historic social security agreement with India to encourage Indian entrepreneurs and tourists to come to Belgium, which has a population of 10 million.

"We are now taking initiatives to make it easier for people coming from foreign companies to have a visa. And we should announce in the next months a new and easy way to obtain that," Verhofstadt said as he spoke glowingly about the dominance of the Indian community in the diamond trade in Antwerp.

"Antwerp continues to be the place to be and the presence of a well-integrated Indian community in this is a tool to reinforce Antwerp's position," he stressed.

He underlined the need for an economic migration policy in Europe to encourage the free flow of skilled professionals from India to Europe. "Today, we need more interaction between Europe and India on the migration of people who are specialised, educated and well trained and they have to come and have to go out in the most easy way, because that's the future," he said.

Comparing the advantages of doing business in Brussels with London, he projected Belgium, the seat of key European Union institutions, as the place of choice for Indian investors.

"If Indian companies are looking at a place to launch their activities in the eurozone and are looking at several activities like logistic centres, financial services, headquarters, distribution centres, Belgium can be the place of choice," he stressed.

Boosting bilateral trade and investment is the major theme of Verhofstadt's India visit - his second after his maiden trip five years ago. Belgium is known for diamonds, banking, beer, food and hi tech industry, microelectronics and pharmaceuticals, he stressed.

"Besides a number of political contacts, we (India and Belgium) will also be signing a number of agreements to boost this trade relation," he said.

"We will sign the social security agreement which will avoid double social security payments. We will also sign an MoU on cooperation between the Indian Institute of Science and Interuniversity Micro Electronics Center in the field of science and technology.

Verhofstadt also indicated that Belgium, a member of the 25-natoion Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), had a constructive approach towards considering civil nuclear cooperation with India.

"If we have some nuclear issues to face, it is not with India but with some other countries. I think the problems are not coming from India but from other small countries which are not democracies," he stressed.
Source: IANS
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