Moscow/Sputnik: Andrei Savenkov Belgium hopes that bilateral trade with Russia will rebound to the pre-COVID-19 levels after experiencing a contraction this year due to the pandemic, new Belgian Ambassador to Russia Marc Michielsen told Sputnik in his first interview since the appointment.
Belgian-Russian trade over the last three years has averaged almost 13 billion euros ($15.8 billion) annually, according to the embassy’s figures. In the first nine months of 2020, the Belgian exportsto Russia decreased by 2.2 percent, while Russia’s exports fell by 30 percent. Russia, however, still recorded a trade surplus of 1.44 billion euros.
"Once we go into the new year and come into the situation, when we get COVID under control, lets’ hope so, we might find back the figures that we had before the COVID period. If we master COVID with the vaccines coming in now, there is a fair chance that 2021 will be the year where it changes, we might be able to go back very fast," Michielsen said.
For the Belgian business, the Russian market has a big potential for growth and expansion, but COVID-19 makes it hard for the newcomers to enter the market due to the travel restrictions, the ambassador noted.
"The Belgian companies who were already active on the Russian market, have remained and keep on doing business. At the Embassy we notice that the interest in the Russian market remains at a high level, but newcomers and new investors face difficulties due to COVID-19 travel restrictions," Michielsen added.
As an example of Belgian companies interested in the Russian market, the ambassador cited Ahlers, a major logistics company, which this month has opened a new regional headquarters in St.Petersburg with a workspace spanning 3,000 square meters.
In order for the Belgian companies to operate smoothly in Russia, they need to return their highly-qualified workers back to Russia and the Belgian Embassy is facilitating that process in order to "come to a new sense of normality," the diplomat noted.
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