Le blog de Carlo Thelen

Advocating free trade and more trade is good


Le directeur de la Chambre de commerce plaide pour le libre-échange et davantage de commerce. (Photo: Sven Becker / Archives)

As announced in my previous blog, I am going to dwell a bit on the relationship between Luxembourg and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a best practice and obvious illustration of the way we cultivate, maintain and foster economic and diplomatic relations with economies that are of key interest for our members, Luxembourg’s businesses. Last week, we had the great privilege to host the ASEAN day at the Chamber of Commerce in order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of EU-ASEAN relations. It was a special honour for us to welcome in our premises all 10 ambassadors at the same time and it was a great opportunity for Luxembourg companies to exchange information and explore business opportunities in the areas of digital technologies, financial, transport and logistics connectivity.

This recent gathering can be enshrined in the continuation of a tradition, since similar meetings have taken place on three occasions. In his former position as director general of the Chamber of Commerce, Pierre Gramegna took a great initiative back in 2010, when he invited for the very fist time the 10 ASEAN ambassadors, accredited for Luxembourg and known as the ASEAN Brussels Committee. His aim was to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development between the ASEAN region and Luxembourg, an overall objective that is also stated in the ASEAN Declaration.

Why ASEAN? Let me recap… The ASEAN was established in 1967 in Bangkok by the five original member countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and finally Cambodia in 1999. The ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted by the ASEAN leaders on the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN, agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN as a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking and living in peace, stability and prosperity.

Our ASEAN economic relationship grounds on an even older partnership with China. Did you know that it was Luxembourg engineers who masterminded, designed and constructed the very first railway in China? Did you know that the first Chinese blast furnace was engineered and built by Luxembourgish companies? That was in the early 20th century and basically at the beginning of Luxembourg companies’ presence in Asia.

When we started to diversify our economy towards the end of the 80s and early 90s, most Luxembourgish companies which entered the Asian markets did so by establishing their representations in countries member of the ASEAN and sometimes chose to set up their regional headquarter there.

ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, headquartered in Luxembourg, is represented in 8 out of the 10 ASEAN member states. Cargolux, Luxembourg’s all Cargo Airliner has 17 weekly flights to 4 out of 10 member states. But also, SME’s started to set up base or operate in those countries. Today, Luxembourg companies conduct business in each of the ASEAN countries and it goes way beyond the trade of products and commodities. We are currently talking about investment and production on a stand-alone basis or with a local joint venture partner.

Regarding trade missions, which are organised by the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce along with the Ministry of the Economy, we visited 9 out of 10 ASEAN countries, Brunei being the only exception. We were among the first movers and organised a trade mission to Myanmar, soon after the country opened up in early 2012.

The fact that Luxembourg has organised 25 trade missions to ASEAN over the last 15 years is a sign that we attach utmost importance to the development of trade with ASEAN countries. During that same period we have quintupled our trade figures and there is still room for more trade!

The Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce also hosts 6 Business Opportunity Days each year, where companies can participate and learn more about ASEAN countries through exchange with a commercial and economic attaché.

It is true that many Luxembourgish companies are geared towards foreign markets with a very high degree of proficiency in their respective sector of activity. They are quite often the world leader in their sector: ArcelorMittal for steel, SES for satellite operations, Champ Cargo for air freight logistics software, Jan De Nul for dredging and deep sea and offshore projects, or Ceratizit, one of the world’s largest producer of hard metals. But more and more SMEs venture towards your countries and the European initiatives show that there is a growing interest but also a clear need to accompany SMEs in those markets.

At the same time, we also aim at attracting ASEAN business and investment to Luxembourg. Luxembourg often ranks in the top 10 ASEAN investment destinations since many investors take advantage of Luxembourg as a financial centre with state-of-the-art bilateral agreements in non-double taxation.

In 2000, the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce organised Lux-Asia and connected over 150 companies from ASEAN countries with local businesses. Since then, we remained at their full disposal to welcome trade delegations to Luxembourg. In 2014 we received the visit from the ASEAN Connectivity Coordination Committee, where field visits in the sectors of ICT and logistics helped to gain a better understanding of the Luxembourg approach in these fields.

On May 10, 2017 the Chamber of Commerce released the 19th edition of “Actualité et tendances”, dedicated to free trade in order to demystify, raise awareness and encourage free trade, highlighting the benefits of trade openness and liberalisation, especially for small, mature and open economies such as the Grand Duchy.

This is how we nurture economic and trade relations with the most dynamic economies in order to establish new business connections and further develop existing business. Advocating free trade and more trade is good. But lending a helping hand is even better!