The following are excerpts from an interview with Ambassador Peter Lescouhier of Belgium in Seoul.—Ed.
Question: What are the most important and other major policies of your country in the New Year?
Answer: This year is an important election year in Belgium: on May 26th new federal and new regional governments will be chosen as well as new Belgian members of the European Parliament. In the field of foreign policy, Belgium will pay special attention to the following priorities: (1) participation in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, (2) a stronger European Union, (3) defense of human rights and the rule of law, and (4) economic diplomacy.
In a global context where multilateralism is under pressure, Belgium will continue to promote the ambitious vision of cooperation which is at the heart of its foreign policy for more than 70 years.
Belgium will continue in 2019 to commit to a European Union that demonstrates its added value in the daily life of our citizens and businesses in both its economic and social dimension, especially by developing the internal market.
Q: What are the major areas of cooperation between your country and Korea in the New Year?
A: The highlight of 2019 will without any doubt be the state visit that will take place at the end of March. HM The King and HM The Queen of Belgium will come to Korea on the invitation of President Moon at the end of March. They will be accompanied by a large business and academic delegation. Also several federal ministers as well as Minister-presidents will accompany HM The King and Queen to Korea. Obviously, this state visit will be a unique opportunity to strengthen and expand the already very good ties between our countries.
Q: What is the volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A : The total amount of import from South Korea to Belgium in 2018 is estimated to be worth €2.5 billion, while the export is estimated at €1.73 billion. We witness the last few years a more or less stable increase in the economic relations between South Korea and Belgium. I hope that this steady growth will continue in 2019.
In 2018 South Korea was the 35th most important export market for Belgium, and the 23th supplier of Belgium.
More than four-fifths of our exports are exempt from Korean import duties, with polished diamonds from Antwerp as a regretful exception, thanks to the free trade agreement between the EU and South Korea, while all Korean exports to Belgium benefit from the FTA.
Q: What are your competitive products and services attractive to Korea and what are Korean products and services that your country might wish to import from Korea?
A : For now, especially chemicals and machines and plastics are exported to Korea. On the import side, base metals, transport materials and machines account for more than 60% of the products. Belgium has a very central location in Europe, which makes it interesting for logistics companies.
In the future, we hope that more Korean companies will be able to make use of Belgium’s excellent place in Europe to distribute to other European countries. Naturally, the ports play a major role here, especially with the port of Antwerp. It is the second largest port in Europe and the second largest chemical cluster in the world. This makes it not only interesting for companies in the chemical sector, but also for companies in the pharmaceutical sector. Biotechnology has also developed strongly in the whole of Belgium.
Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A: I hope more Korean companies will make use of the excellent logistic facilities in Belgium to set up distribution centers that can serve the European Common Market quickly and economically.
Brussels has the advantage of being the center of Europe, and is not only the capital of Belgium, but hosts also the headquarters of both the EU and NATO. It is one of the most important centers of political decision-making, and one of the most important conference centers in Europe.
The regions around it offer excellent opportunities for investors thanks to the density of the road and rail networks, and excellent logistical connections with the Netherlands, Germany, Luxemburg and France.
Furthermore, in comparison with the surrounding countries, Belgium offers low real estate costs and land prices, which, combined with highly educated, multi-lingual employees make a very good base for most types of businesses. Finally, Belgium is also a pleasant country to live in, with a high quality of life, and good food, at a reasonable cost.
Our Belgian business sector invests in many different fields in South-Korea. We have companies that are active in a broad variety of domains including, among others, the agro-food and pharmaceutical sectors. Our regional economic advisors are open to help our companies invest in Korea in any field that they believe is helpful for their future growth.
Q: Who is your Korean Honorary Consul, and how are his/her services contributing to further promoting the relations, friendship and cooperation between the two countries?
A: Belgium has a Korean Honorary Consul in Ulsan. Mr. Choi, Seung-bong (°1962) has worked at Solvay, a Belgian chemical company, for over 20 years and is currently the Site Director of the factory of Solvay in Ulsan. Solvay is an advanced materials and specialty chemicals company, addressing next-generation mobility and improving resource efficiency. Its headquarters are located in Brussels. The Solvay group has been present in Korea since 1975 and has more than 500 employees on 6 plants/administrative sites.
As the president of Solvay in Ulsan, Mr. Choi is especially helpful to the Belgian Embassy in terms of economic diplomacy. Furthermore, he also facilitates the networking of the Embassy in the Busan and Ulsan-areas, and helps us to prepare for high-level visits to the region.
Q: Who is the head of the bilateral friendship organization with your country? How is he contributing to the promotion of bilateral cooperation?
A: Both the Belgian Federal Parliament as the Korean Parliament have a South-Korea/Belgium friendship group. The Chairman of the Korea-Belgium Parliamentarian Friendship Group in the Korean Parliament is Dr. Gwang-lim Kim, a Korean lawmaker and former vice-Finance Minister. In the Belgian federal parliament it is Mr. Roel Deseyn who is president of the Belgium-Korea section.
Q: Who heads the bilateral economic cooperation organization on the Korean side between the two countries?
A: KOTRA – the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency - has an office in Brussels in order to try and stimulate economic cooperation between Belgium and South Korea. KOTRA, a non-profit governmental organization established in 1962, is the body of Korea in charge of promoting foreign trade and attracting foreign investment. Their mission is to facilitate global business by giving support for promising export-oriented businesses, but also providing business consultations to produce other tangible benefits. Moreover, KOTRA also looks for new growth engines to overcome structural challenges, and tries to lay the firm groundwork for the Korean export industry so that it can grow despite unstable external factors. KOTRA promotes foreign investment which will contribute to the advancement of domestic industries. Furthermore, they also promote foreign investment for industries with high growth potential, such as artificial intelligence and future cars; and they make efforts to improve the FDI system to attract foreign investment in quantity and quality.
Q: Who are the most prominent Korean or Koreans who made the largest contribution to the bilateral cooperation last year?
A: As I have mentioned before as well, the bilateral cooperation between South-Korea and Belgium is very diverse. There is plenty of cooperation in the economic, academic as well as cultural sectors, to name just a few. Therefore, it would be very hard to identify only one prominent Korean who has made the largest contribution to bilateral ties between our both countries. I am confident that together, all Korean companies who invest in Belgium, all international exchange students, all people holding a working holiday visa, as well as regular tourists visiting the splendors of Belgium, in a common effort built stronger ties than any single government official or company CEO could dream of.
Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of your country?
A: Bruges and Brussels are the most famous tourist destinations of our country. However, that doesn’t mean that the other parts of Belgium do not have anything to offer. Wallonia, the southern part of the country, is mostly famous for its beautiful nature and castles. A lot of tourists come here to enjoy the forests and the fresh air, both in summer and in winter. Flanders, the northern part of the country, is more known for its art cities. Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges are the most famous ones. Furthermore, of course, there is Brussels, often seen as the capital of Europe, a sprawling city where many different cultures meet on a daily basis.
Q: Please introduce in detail your President (or Prime Minister) who heads the Executive Branch of your Government?
A: Charles Michel is the current Prime Minister of Belgium. He is the son of Louis Michel, also a prominent politician who was among others a European Commissioner and Member of the European Parliament.
Charles Michel began his political career at the age of 16 when he joined the Young Liberal Reformers of Jodoigne, affiliated to the MR. In 1994, at the age of 18, Charles Michel was elected provincial councilor in Walloon Brabant. He graduated in law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the University of Amsterdam in 1998, after which he became lawyer at the Brussels Bar. He is fluent in Dutch and English in addition to his native French. Michel has been elected to the federal Chamber of Representatives since 1999. In 2000, he became Minister of Home Affairs in the Walloon Government. Aged 25, he became the youngest minister in Belgium's history. In 2006, he became mayor of the city of Wavre. In December 2007, Michel became the Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation.
Charles Michel was the leader of the francophone liberal party Mouvement Réformateur (MR), the French-speaking liberal party, since February 2011 until becoming Prime Minister in 2014. Michel is the youngest Belgian Prime Minister since 1845. Charles Michel was born in Namur (Belgium), in 1975.
As Belgium is a federal country, there are also 5 regional governments:
-The Flemish Government - the executive branch of the Flemish Community and the Flemish Region of Belgium. It consists of a government cabinet, headed by the Minister-President Geert Bourgeois
-The Walloon Government is the executive branch of Wallonia, with headquarters in Namur, under Minister-President Willy Borsus. He will accompany the King to Korea during the state visit.
-The government of the Brussels-Capital Region is the political administration of the Brussels region of Belgium. The government is headed by Minister-President Rudi Vervoort. He will accompany the King during the state visit as well.
-The Cabinet of the French Community of Belgium is the executive branch of the French Community of Belgium, with headquarters in Brussels. It is headed by Minister-President Rudy Demotte.
-The government of the German-speaking Community is the executive body of the German-speaking Community of Belgium, headed by Minister-President Oliver Paasch.
Q: Please introduce yourself in detail to include your career, family and hobbies.
A: Peter Gaston Marcella Lescouhier, with the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as his jurisdiction.
- Born in Brugge (Belgium) on March 29th, 1961
- Married to XIANG Xueqiu, one daughter (Annie)
- 1985-1986: Fudan University (Shanghai, PRC): modern Chinese history
- 1984-1985: Nanjing University (Nanjing, PRC): modern Chinese language
- 1983-1984: State University Ghent (Ghent, Belgium): Master degree Press and Communication Sciences
- 1979-1983: State University Ghent (Ghent, Belgium): Master degree Oriental Philology (modern and classical Chinese)
- 1973-1979: Secondary education (Bruges, Belgium): Latin and sciences
- July 2018-now: Ambassador to the Republic of Korea and to the DPRK
- June 2015-June 2018: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Head N.E. Asia Division
- Aug 2012-June 2015: Ambassador to the Republic of Lithuania
- Sep 2011-July 2012: Advisor at the Asia and Oceania Department (DAO) of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Oct 2009-June 2011: Belgian liaison diplomat assisting the Hungarian “focal point” in charge of the coordination within the trio EU-Presidency (ES-BE-HU) during the preparation and the duration of the trio Presidency of the Council of the EU (January 1st 2010 till June 30th 2011)
- Sep 2006-Oct 2009: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate External Action of the EU (responsible for EU enlargement policy, relations of the EU with the eastern partners of the European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Russia, EU-China)
- Sep 2002-Aug 2006: Permanent Representation of Belgium to the EU (spokesperson for BE in the WG Environment, ad hoc WG on chemical substances (REACH), WG Amlat, WG external fisheries)
- Feb 2000-July 2002: Pristina (Head of the liaison office of Belgium in Kosovo)
- Sep 1997-Jan 2000: Manila (Deputy Head of Mission)
- Sep 1991-Aug 1997: Beijing (Second Secretary in charge of Press and Cultural Affairs, First Secretary in charge of Economic Affairs)
- 1987-1988: Assistant manager Travel Agency Tozai Travel (Amsterdam, Holland)
- Mother tongue: Dutch
- Good active and passive knowledge of French, English, Chinese
- Fair active and good passive knowledge of German
- Passive knowledge of Japanese
- Hobbies: Reading and translating classical Chinese poetry