When His Majesty King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium landed in New Delhi with a 90-member delegation, it was clear that they meant serious business. The visit, which is taking place in the year when both nations are celebrating 70 years of diplomatic ties, is aimed at deepening the overall political and economic engagement between the two countries. The Royal couple were accompanied by six Ministers and a high powered business delegation comprising of CEOs of about 90 Belgian companies, 13 Heads of academic institutions and a 30-member media delegation.
India is looking forward to enhance bilateral ties with the European nation especially in trade and investment, with whom $13.28 billion worth goods were traded last fiscal. The royal couple met President Ram NathKovind and held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday during their seven-day visit to New Delhi, Mumbai and Taj Mahal in Agra.
This was the Belgian King’s first state visit to India after his coronation in 2013, adding to the importance of the tour. King Philippe’s visit comes at a time when political and business leaders in Belgium have shown increasing interest in India drawn by business opportunities and India’s growing stature in global polity. There is a strong Belgian interest in expanding trade and investment links with India and equally in attracting Indian investment into Belgium. The diamond industry in Antwerp is an important connection with India, which has now been corroborated with 18,000 Indians active in IT industries and universities in Belgium.
The Royal itinerary
The Royal couple started their program with a visit to Agra on 6 November 2017. This was followed by an official forecourt ceremony in honor of the King at Rashtrapati Bhawan on Other program included a call on by the External Affairs Minister, meeting with the Prime Minister at Hyderabad House and call on by Vice President Venkiah Naidu and a banquet in honor of the Royal couple hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind. “Like so many Belgians and members of our delegation, we come to India with feelings of great respect and admiration.For your old and rich culture, which continues to fill us with wonder and to inspire us. For the greatness and the legacy of your leaders, from emperors like Ashoka and Akbar to Mahatma Gandhi. For your tradition of religious tolerance : more than 3,500 years ago, the Rig Veda already referred to “the One existence, which sages describe in many ways”. For the vibrant and peaceful evolution of your democracy, the world’s biggest. For the dynamism of your economy and your
world leadership in so many fields.”
During the official meeting with PM, both sides discussed wide ranging bilateral and multilateral issues including India’s historic relations with Belgium, contribution of Indian soldiers in First World War, Belgium’s support to India at the multilateral forums, India’s fight against terrorism, Migration and Mobility, Trade and Investment, India EU relations and the 14th India EU Summit, progress on the India-EU bilateral trade and investment agreement, fi ght against climate change and India’s views on BREXIT.
The King commended the flagship initiatives of Government of India and expressed the interest of Belgian companies to participate in programs such as Make-in-India, Clean India and the Smart Cities Program. The King formally announced Belgian support for India’s candidate – Judge Dalveer Bhandari for the International Court of Justice. India also expressed its support to Belgium’s candidature for the non-permanent seat in the UNSC for the period 2019-20.
The King paid homage to Father of the Nation at Raj Ghat and laid a wreath at the India Gate. He also inaugurated an exhibition titled, ‘India & Belgium on the Centenary of Great War’ at Manekshaw Center and released a coffee-table book ‘India in Flanders Fields’ to commemorate the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers in defence of Belgium in First World War. Queen Mathilde, apart from the offi cial activities in the company of the King devoted time to visit the ‘Childline’ facility at Gurugram.
In all about 38 Agreements covering smart cities, academic and business cooperation were signed during the visit. A total of 13 business seminars were organized – 8 in Delhi and 5 in Mumbai. The seminars in Delhi focused on making smart use of scarce resources, personalized healthcare for all, innovation, industry 4.0, sustainability and trade, S&T cooperation, Belgian technologies for heavy industry and food processing.
The seminars in Mumbai centered on best practices for diamond trade, solutions for smart cities and industries, life sciences and healthcare, digitization and exploring business opportunities in India. The King and the Queen also visited the memorial of the victims of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.