ASTANA – Belgium and Kazakhstan have been publicly matched a few times recently – at the Davis Cup world group match in February of this year, when Kazakhstan ousted Belgium in the first round only to be knocked out by Switzerland, and in the bidding for EXPO 2017 in 2012, when Astana won the honour of hosting the event. The recent friendly competition hasn’t cooled the two countries’ warm, longstanding relationship, however.
Belgium has opened an embassy in Astana in 2006 and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has paid Brussels two working visits in less than a decade, in 2006 and 2010, to showcase the will to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two countries and to attract Belgian investors.
“Our embassy’s priorities in Kazakhstan are for people in Kazakhstan to learn more about Belgium, its people, its cultural heritage and its place in the world economy” Ambassador of Belgium to Kazakhstan Michel Peetermans told The Astana Times. The priorities also are “to promote the economic trade and political ties between the two countries and our citizens. We are working in close cooperation with the EU delegation in different fields. For commercial questions, it is possible to contact our trade attaché in Almaty, where Belgium also has a honorary consul, Mr. Daniel Parisse”.
In 2011, the Belgian exports to Kazakhstan amounted to 160 million euros, in 2012 to 210 million euros and in 2013 to 280 million euros. These figures show the growing interest of the companies of our countries to develop their bilateral relations.
“There are several spheres in which the enterprises of our countries may develop a fruitful cooperation, like agriculture, environment, new technologies, water treatment and management” the ambassador said.
In recent years, the most active trade between the two countries has been in machines and tools, chemical products, plastics and applications, pharmaceutical products, iron and steel and minerals.
|Belgium in a nutshell
Belgium is located in Western Europe and has a population of 11 million. Despite its relatively small dimension (30,000 square kilometres), it plays a significant role in the world economy. It is a federal state with three official languages (Dutch, French and German). Brussels hosts the main EU institutions, including the EU Council, as well as the NATO headquarters. Belgium is a member of many other multilateral organisations, like OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), Council of Europe and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). Belgium will chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from November 2014 till May 2015. The Belgian universities have a reputation of excellence. They are open to foreign students wishing to complete their curricula or to receive a specialisation.
“Belgium has also a rich cultural heritage, as well as a long musical tradition. The embassy will try to raise awareness about it. In this context, I am pleased to mention the exhibition “Living in a Palace” organised very recently by Belgian art galleries, on April 17-27, where many various art creations were shown to a large public in the Kasteyev Museum in Almaty. There are other events that we would like to emphasise, such as the celebration of Antoine-Joseph a.k.a. ‘Adolphe’ Sax, the Belgian musician and instrument designer, who was born two hundred years ago, on November 6, 1814. He played the clarinet and flute and invented the saxophone. We would like to celebrate this event throughout the year in Astana and in Almaty,” the ambassador explained. So far there are no definite dates, but the embassy will later on announce events in conjunction with the anniversary. In 2015, different events will be organised to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, near Brussels.
The Belgian community in Kazakhstan isn’t very large, but is very active in various walks of life, the ambassador said.
“There are, for example, Belgian teachers at the Nazarbayev University [and in] schools, in private and international companies and organisations like the NCOC [North Caspian Operating Company] for instance, or in Shymkent Pivo, a Shymkent-based brewery established back in the USSR in 1976,” he said, which works with Belgian equipment and produces specialty beers, with fruits like cherries and even raspberries. It is not available in Astana so far, only in the Shymkent region.”
Although Liege didn’t win the bid for EXPO 2017, the campaign for Liège’s candidacy has been very useful, because it has helped promote worldwide Liège’s numerous assets and has given an impetus to the achievement of different infrastructure projects.
“I was in Paris when the expo bid results were announced; I also attended the presentation by Astana city Akim (Mayor) Imangali Tasmagambetov, and I was very interested of course,” Ambassador Peetermans said.
Other international venues will be organised in Liège, like the second French Language World Forum that the city of Liege will host July 20-23, 2015.”
“A number of Belgian companies are willing to take part at projects linked directly and indirectly with the expo participate in EXPO 2017 in Astana,” ambassador said. “The participation of Belgium to the EXPO itself has to be formally decided after the federal and regional elections on May 25, and the formation of a new federal government.”
Ambassador Peetermans has lived in Astana with his family since assuming office in August 2013. He and his family enjoy walks and bike rides in the capital.
“As a diplomat, I am not only living in Kazakhstan but my work is also closely linked to Kazakhstan. I think that I am lucky to be here: Astana is a new and fascinating city. Sometimes, people complain about the cold in the winter, but, to be honest, I did not feel it very often this year. What strikes me, on the contrary, is the sunny weather, which is really pleasant.”