“E-commerce is a worldwide booming trend right now,” says Michel Kempeneers, and China plays a major role in this cross-border e-commerce boom.
With the increasing number of Chinese companies entering the global market, more and more countries are striving to welcome both the products and investments from the Middle Kingdom.
Among these countries, Belgium’s southern region of Wallonia managed to stand out building a network of infrastructures and services to support companies that wish to do business in Europe.
Although it is an inland region, Wallonia is found to be a special gateway to the European market thanks not only to the best-connected network of seaports and airports in the area but also to the launch of the first European EU-China Logistics Incubator.
Signed at the end of 2017, the initiative was launched by the Walloon government, co-founded by Wallonia Export-Investment Agency (AWEX), Logistics in Wallonia – the official cluster of Wallonia region for logistics companies, and the Liège Airport, which is the incubator’s base.
Founded in 1998, AWEX is one of the main players of the initiative being both a partner for Walloon companies wishing to develop overseas and a one-stop shop for foreign enterprises interested in setting up in Wallonia.
In January, at the Global Cross-Border Conference in Shenzhen, Cifnews met Michel Kempeneers – General Inspector and COO Overseas Export-Investment at AWEX – to talk about this bridge between the two continents, which is the first of its kind in Europe.
The Eu-China Logistics Initiative was born to support all Chinese logistics providers and companies to start their business in Wallonia, as well as in the European market. The aim is to provide a favorable environment to establish business and logistics activities in a strategic region where enterprises can easily expand in the European market and neighboring areas.
Therefore, while Wallonia serves as a bridge between China and Europe, the initiative provides all the services required by cross-border e-commerce such as easy access to the infrastructures, local partners or government services.
“We try to take Chinese companies by the hand to help them understand how it works in Europe,” said Michel Kempeneers.
According to AWEX Chief Operating Officer, Wallonia’s strength is not only its location at the heart of the commerce triangleformed by Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Paris but the region is also close to the EU Commission and EU stakeholders making the process of building new contexts and partnerships with them easier.
In addition, Wallonia is also close to airports and seaports that welcome the largest amount of products from China. Indeed, last October, a direct block train service between Belgium and the Henan province was inaugurated right here.
The new line is actually the first of its kind to be used at a regular frequency in Belgium and it offers a direct connection between Zhengzhou and Liège in support of the Belt and Road Initiative.
As Mr. Kempeneers stressed, the Walloon government has invested in building infrastructures fully dedicated to trade and with a strong customs department. Liège Airport, in fact, only handles cargo as opposed to most of the major European capitals’ airports, which handle both cargo and tourists. Today, it is Belgium’s largest air freight hub, and Europe’s 8th-largest cargo airport.
Hosting infrastructures fully dedicated to the products’ trade allows the process of entering the country much quicker and also easier. Therefore, many companies already choose Liège Airport to enter the EU market over other destinations.
Even the Chinese giant Alibaba recognized Wallonia as the most strategic gateway to expand in Europe. Liège has been chosen by the e-commerce titan’s logistics unit Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Ltd as one of the five international big hubs that will cut international delivery times to 72 hours from the current average of about 10 days.
Cainiao and Liège Airport thus signed a contract to lease a 220,000 sq mt area, which will serve as a world-class smart shipping hub inside the airport starting in 2021.
“The arrival of Cainiao reinforces the competitiveness of our hub,” said Liège Airport CEO Luc Partoune. “Several PRC companies are already here. While other companies will be attracted by the presence of Cainiao and the opportunity for e-commerce growth between Europe and China.”
© Liège Airport. In 2017, the full cargo services offered by Liège Airport had beaten a record with almost 717,000 tonnes of goods processed. In 2018, the number increased by 21.5%.
Therefore, while the government of Belgium and Alibaba work together to introduce new technologies that will promote a more efficient clearance of goods, the EU-China Logistics Incubator works to further develop the logistics support for Chinese companies.
As AWEX COO pointed out in the interview, the fact that the country is so much supported by its own openness to the worldwide market is one of the reasons at the base of Belgium’s political stability, unlike some other European countries. A higher commitment to make Belgian infrastructures more secure is due to a general awareness of the importance of logistics facilities in the development of the country’s economy.
For the same reason, Brexit could turn into an opportunity for Wallonia to make products enter the EU market without the concern of possible unstable commerce the post-Brexit UK might offer.
The Walloon region aims to become the European main distribution center. At the same time, Chinese companies are striving to expand in the EU market. Therefore, by offering the most flexible and comprehensive customs in the continent and many logistics services, Wallonia now represents the ideal location to invest and build distribution centers.
Last year, Chinese investment in Wallonia reached $ 397 million (€ 351 million), top place in foreign investments in 2018. The region is thus more serious than ever in trying to make the life of enterprises entering Belgium easier than any other place in Europe.
“It is time to secure all the facilities and to give the message to Chinese companies that they made the best choice in choosing Wallonia,” said Mr. Kempeneers.
EU-China Logistics, as well as AWEX, are both Cifnews’ partners and they attended Xiamen and Hangzhou CCEE. By collaborating with Cifnews through cross-border e-commerce events, the EU-China Logistics project wants to make Chinese aware that Wallonia is the right place to start their businesses.
The mission of Cifnews, for its part, has always been to create a bridge between the Chinese and the European e-commerce world and the EU-China Logistics Incubator project certainly goes in this direction.
On one hand, the central location in Europe, the proximity to the EU commission and to the EU big players such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands are what make the region a hot spot for foreign businesses.
On the other hand, the rapidness of customs, the land availability, and the government’s support make the EU-China Logistics Incubator a unique partner for China’s entrepreneurship.
In addition, under the “One Belt One Road Initiative”, China-Wallonia e-commerce and logistics cooperation will grow stronger. Belgium will not be the only one that will benefit from this, but also Europe and the global market will.